Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: South Pacific

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 at 2:34 PM

Katie Reid and Shane Donovan in South Pacific, which is at the Mahalia Jackson Theater this week.
  • Katie Reid and Shane Donovan in "South Pacific," which is at the Mahalia Jackson Theater this week.
In this season of Broadway Across America offerings that includes a ribald rock musical (Rock of Ages), a campy flop (The Addams Family), a tourist standby (Blue Man Group) and a contemporary Broadway hit (The Lion King), South Pacific is the Good Old-Fashioned Musical of the pack. The show may be a standard, but this iteration of the Rodgers & Hammerstein wartime romance certainly isn’t staid: the touring production is based on the Tony-winning 2008 Broadway revival, which was punched up with lush sets, colorful period costumes and some mild sexual humor (a moment of brief nudity was very exciting for the primarily older audience at the opening night of the New Orleans stop). Although this production fails to live up to the near-unanimous praise of the revival (The New York Times described it as nearly flawless), it’s still a solid show that delivers on its signature songbook.

The musical is set at a U.S. Naval base during World War II, where daffy American nurse Nellie Forbush (Katie Reid) has fallen for the wealthy French expat Emile de Becque (Marcelo Guzzo), who has a few secrets — mainly two Polynesian love children and a murder rap. Nellie tries to get him out of her head in the audience favorite "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair," which Reid carries with bright buoyancy against a weak supporting cast. With his deep, rich baritone, Guzzo handles Emile’s songs adeptly, but his acting and French accent were clunky and resulted in some unintentional humor (his opera background is perhaps to blame for his stiff stage presence). Also on the base we find an L-and-R interchanging, cartoonish Asian stereotype of the first order in the scheming Bloody Mary (played by Cathy Foy-Mahi, who is bewitching during “Bali Ha’i”), a pack of goofy sailors and Lt. Joseph Cable (Shane Donovan), whose Princeton education didn’t prepare him for the emotional predicament in which he finds himself. The lighting was effective, creating lovely tropical sunsets and feathery clouds. But no amount of Broadway standards and pretty set pieces could expedite the first act, which at an hour and 40 minutes left many audience members less than enchanted — and they were quite vocal about it — as intermission neared.

South Pacific is at the Mahalia Jackson Theater 8 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sat.-Sun., 7:30 p.m. Sun. Tickets $34.85-$99.70 (includes fees).

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