Tag: Joshua Logan
The Lincoln Center revival comes to the Rosemont Theatre, and perfection ensues.
The Lincoln Center presents:
Reviewed by Oliver Sava
Many would argue that the Lincoln Center‘s South Pacific is the best revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein wartime musical ever devised. Having never seen South Pacific on stage before, I cannot gauge how director Bartlett Sher’s interpretation compares to previous productions, but I will say this: it is one of the most beautiful and emotional musicals I have ever seen.
World War II is in full force, and the threat of Japanese invasion has resulted in U.S. Navy outposts throughout the Polynesian islands. Romance is in bloom for Ensign Nellie Forbush (Carmen Cusack) and French planter Emile de Becque (David Pittsinger), but Nellie’s prejudices threaten to tear them apart when she discovers his two mixed-race children. The two actors have incredible chemistry, immediately establishing their softly smoldering passion with "Twin Soliloquies," a transcendent duet that probes into the characters’ hopes and fears and sets the stage for their tumultuous relationship. Seconds later, Pittsinger begins "Some Enchanted Evening," arguably the musical’s most famous song, and the audience is as spellbound as Nellie; the quality of Pittsinger’s voice is ethereal, as delicate and powerful as the character that it belongs to. His Act II solo "This Nearly Was Mine," a heartbreaking rumination on lost opportunities, packs an emotional punch that left the audience with teary eyes and sniffling noses. There is simply not enough praise that can be showered on Pittsinger, whose portrayal of Emile de Becque belongs in a museum.
Cusack is no slouch in the vocals department either, showing amazing range with a great brassy belt that seems effortless. Her first solo, "A Cockeyed Optimist" has a youthful effervescence that captures Nellie’s naiveté, but Cusack then turns on the heat with the playfully sexy "I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," Charleston-ing in her bathing suit while splashing her giggling girlfriends with shampoo. The scene that immediately follows, an awkward confrontation between the half-naked Forbush and her renounced lover, is filled with tension as the audience watches the ingénue struggle with her combating emotions, but the payoff is glorious: "A Wonderful Guy" is a joyous exclamation of love that is heightened exponentially by Cusack’s commitment to her character, and watching her jump around the stage with unbridled glee is a fantastic release from the intensity of the scene that preceded it. After Nellie believes Emile to have died on a secret mission with Lt. Cable in Act II, she sings a reprise of "Some Enchanted Evening" with a lamentable sadness that makes her utterance of the line "Don’t die, Emile," incredibly tragic and heart-rending.
Pittsinger and Cusack are joined by a spot-on supporting cast, highlighted by Anderson Davis as Lt. Joseph Cable and Keala Settle as Bloody Mary. Davis has the voice of an angel, churning out incredibly high notes with ease, but he also brings fervent passion to his character. The intimacy between Cable and Bloody Mary’s daughter Liat (Sumie Maeda) is gentle, but there is a fire beneath the relationship that makes their inevitable split all the more heartbreaking. Davis also has great chemistry with Cusack, creating a strong bond of friendship during "My Girl Back Home" that comes from his understanding of Forbush’s troubles and the ways in which they reflect his own. As the injustices that have defined his beliefs become apparent to Cable, Anderson becomes increasingly fervid, culminating in the tragic "You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught," a raging criticism of how American society molds its citizens into hateful bigots.
Settle has the unenviable task of taking the stereotypical Bloody Mary and finding the reality that defines the character, and she does a phenomenal job. While Mary is primarily used for comic relief, Settle makes her sensual, astute, and just the right amount of dangerous, creating three dimensions from a cardboard cutout of a character. Mary takes advantage of the sailors’ misconceptions of the native people, proving herself not only a cunning businesswoman, but a deviously effective matchmaker to boot. Her enchanting rendition of "Bali Ha’i" has the mystical air that has made the song a musical theater staple, and she is aided by the phenomenal design team who create a towering image of Bali Ha’i simply with color and shadow. Mary’s hopes for her daughter fuel her actions, and watching Settle cultivate Liat’s relationship with Cable during "Happy Talk" is a welcome contrast to the brash mischief of her earlier scenes.
Design-wise, the show is a work of art, with Michael Yeargan‘s sets stretching out to an imaginary horizon that feels amazingly real. Donald Holder‘s lighting creating an ethereal atmosphere in the opening scenes with shades of blue and pink that pop off the stage, and stark monochromatic hues in the later moments reflect the dark turn of the storyline. Ted Sperling‘s musical direction is out of this world, and the 26 piece pit orchestra have such an amazing understanding of Robert Russell Bennett‘s orchestrations that it’s nigh impossible to not be completely enthralled in the music from the very first swelling of the overture.
Sher‘s directing genius is clearly evident in the performances of his outstanding cast, but one specific directorial choice must be discussed in order to truly understand the wonder of his South Pacific. After Emile’s supposed death, Nellie becomes a caretaker to his two children, having overcome her prejudices when she realizes they pale in comparison to the love he has shown her. In the final scene, Emile reappears while Nellie shares dinner with his children, and his son and daughter rush to him as if he had just come home from a day on the fields, unaware of the moment’s gravity. Nellie does not rush to him, she does not wrap her arms around him and kiss him passionately. Rather, she is so overcome with emotion that she can think of nothing else to do but set the table for the returned patriarch, and as they all sit in silence, a family for the first time, Emile places his hand on the empty seat between his lover and he. The simple motion of Nellie putting her hand in his is done with such passion and intensity that it speaks louder than any words, and is the most subtle and absolute display of love that I have ever seen on stage.
If the opportunity to see South Pacific presents itself before its regrettable November 29th closing, drag yourself to the Rosemont Theater, whether that be by car, public transit, hitchhiking, or walking 20 miles in freezing rain. It’s a small price to pay for this theatrical masterpiece.