South Pacific @ Playhouse
Since its first run in 1949, South Pacific has enjoyed enormous success and the unwavering admiration of generations of fans. Set, indeed, on a South Pacific island during the Second World War, the musical follows the lives and adventures of the island’s natives and of American Seabees and nurses stationed there.
South Pacific was inspired by James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, whose episodic structure is reflected in the show, which follows so many sub-plots that one finds oneself a little lost at times. However, this production, directed by Bartlett Sher and touring the UK after a successful and awarded run at the Lincoln Center Theatre, is a real treat. The beautiful, detailed sets are mesmerizing, and so are the musical acts, directed by Jae Alexander and performed flawlessly by a numerous, energetic casts, with Loretta Ables Sayre standing out as an unforgettable Bloody Mary.
Only a few flaws make what could be a five-star production still improvable. A few technical aspects, not particularly subtle, could be adjusted, in order to be less distracting for the audience. Above all, what is meant to be a deeply felt drama loses some of its poignancy in this hybrid adaptation, modernised in some parts (the rather explicit sexual innuendos, for example), but still trying to look like an authentic piece from the 1950s. So the issues of race regarding Emile’s mixed-race children and Liat do not come across as particularly relevant, and the audience does not empathise with Nellie and Cable’s moral dilemmas.
Instead of choosing one way, Sher’s adaptation hovers between a contemporary version of a classic, and the original thing. Nevertheless, this is a well-crafted production which deserves being seen and will not fail to provide a fun night of escapism. [Claudia Marinaro]