South Pacific

The Metropolitan Musical Theatre Company of SA Inc. The Arts Theatre. 11 May 2012

One of the things I love about musicals is everything doesn’t have to make sense, just so long as the romantic arc is that of Cupid’s arrow.  When Joshua Logan was putting South Pacific together with Oscar and Hammerstein, only four years after the end of the war in 1949, it didn’t matter that a Frenchman was unlikely to have a plantation on the German and English colonies of current day Solomon Islands and Bougainville.  It only mattered that the setting honoured the heroic first retaking of land in the Pacific war by US forces.  It didn’t matter that the cyclorama glowed a beautiful sunset when Nellie mentioned they’re at afternoon lunch.  Or that the twin volcanoes of Balai H’ai looked like Mt Bulla.  Or that Tonkinese (Chinese) Bloody Mary would have a Polynesian daughter.  Or that Nellie sounds like she’s from the Deep South, instead of like Bill Clinton – when they are both from Arkansas.  None of this really matters.

What matters are the beautiful, famous and melodic songs written by Oscar and Hammerstein, and the bright and clear voices of Emma Gordon-Smith and John Greene as the aforementioned Nellie and French plantation owner.  The desire and conflicted emotions of the love story between Nellie and de Becque was charming and at times moving, while Lt. Cable and Liat, played by Angus Birdseye and Celeste Barone, had a rather quick coupling.  Both women were archetypal male fantasies – the older man desiring the much younger woman and the pliable obedient Asian.  Angus Smith gave a highly watchable and suitably macho performance as the scheming Seabee Luther Billis.

South Pacific spawned off many stereotypes that we now expect to be mimicked.  So we see Sergeant Bilko in Billis, and Major Frank Burns of M.A.S.H. in Michael Harris’s rendition of the Navy captain.  Carolyn Mesecke was a terrifically characterised Bloody Mary, a role later reincarnated as The Engineer in Miss Saigon. 

Carmel Vistoli let the cast off easy with simple choreography and the orchestra under Trish Spence wasn’t always rowing together.  Costumes were well done.   Two long gaps in the second act gave me some time to think about this review – waiting, waiting, waiting for the boats, and some fumbling around in the Captain’s office.  The best thing director Greg Hart did was cast his five lead actors.

David Grybowski

When: 10 to 19 May
Where: The Arts Theatre