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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center

By Roger B. Harris

  Paulo Szot and Kelli O'Hara/Ph: Joan Marcus

When Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific opened at the Majestic on Broadway in April of 1949, the show daringly broke new ground with the story it told. The musical's book attacked racial intolerance and American isolationism at a time when most people-exhausted from a war ended just scant years before- were not ready to deal with such searing questions. For its honesty, South Pacific picked up a Pulitzer Prize for drama. And for their efforts, the stars, Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, picked up a legion of fans and stage immortality. A score full of memorable tunes, including This Nearly Was Mine, There Is Nothing Like A Dame and Younger Than Springtime enchanted theatergoers.

Now, the show has returned, in the first full blown revival to hit Broadway, since the original award-winning production. And Happy Talk should abound. Not so much for the story, which has lost its power to shock, but for letting us once again experience the beautiful music and lyrics. Having been away from the show for so long, one could almost be excused for forgetting the majesty of the work.

Director Bartlett Sher, who was Tony nominated for his work on The Light in the Piazza, is well equipped to handle a musical of this size and scope. There is a brashness, but there's also subtlety and nuance to his working of the cast.

Kelli O'Hara's Nellie Forbush is vigorous and energetic. That comes in handy when she's belting out I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair. And there's a certain charm and, yes, charisma, she exudes, which make the tender moments she has with her French plantation owner believable.

As for Ms. O'Hara's romantic interest, Brazilian opera star Paulo Szot brings the requisite suaveness and a beautiful voice to the role of Emile de Becque. His rendition of Some Enchanted Evening is pitch perfect in tone and feeling. His acting, on the other hand, is wooden and robotic. In the role of Lieutenant Joe Cable, Matthew Morrison gives an able approximation of a tortured soul, who finds what he's been looking for- only to realize he can't have it. As the perpetually scheming Luther Billis, Danny Burstein gives as good as he gets. All of the large cast, in fact, seem suited to the roles they play.

Also to be commended are Michael Yeargan for sets, Donald Holder for lighting, Scott Lehrer for sound and Catherine Zuber for costumes. And conductor/musical director Ted Sperling, vocal coach Deborah Hecht and Christopher Gattelli for musical staging, need take a bow, too.

Tremendous anticipation had built up since this revival of South Pacific was first announced - and trepidation, too. What if this most iconic of shows proved to be a dud -or the score, not as rich as remembered? Well the better angels have won out- all is right with the musical world. South Pacific is a glorious, delicious hit-with an emotional wallop, that doesn't leave a dry eye in the house. Some enchanted evening, indeed!


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