‘South Pacific’ brings an enchanted evening to St. Louis

| Cadenza Reporter

The songs were catchy, the choreography was energetic, and the book was amusing. Even the costumes and the set were convincing. There is a reason why the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” swept the 2008 Tony Awards. Quirky and fun, this show is thoroughly enjoyable.

However, it takes talent to pull this off. The poor quality of the script demands that the comic effects be emphasized, the emotions be dramatized and each song be stunning. There is little development of the relationships between Nellie (Carmen Cusack) and Emile (David Pittsinger) or Joe Cable (the very attractive Anderson Davis) and Liat (Sumie Maeda), and, while prejudice is suggested as the underlying conflict, it seems forced and unexplored. The second act also ends abruptly, leaving the audience confused by the sudden blackout.

All of this did not strike me until long after the curtain call. I was too distracted by the well-crafted set and the accurate costumes that I secretly wished were still in style. I was preoccupied listening to either charming numbers like “Some Enchanted Evening” and “A Wonderful Guy” or hilarious tunes like “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” and “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame.” Girls will relate to Nellie’s promises to rid herself of Emile, only to return to him again and again. And please, Liat, keep Lieutenant Cable’s shirt—we don’t want him to put it back on either.

Anderson Davis’s body aside, Carmen Cusack’s flawless portrayal of Nellie Forbush is reason enough to see the show. She is coy, carries the Midwest charm of an Arkansas girl well and hits a remarkably high note at the end of “A Wonderful Guy.” Jodi Kimura’s brilliant performance as Bloody Mary manages to be spooky and hilarious at the same time (the line “Stingy bastard!” never got old). If a play is only as good as its worst actor, “South Pacific” is strong. The ensemble, too, is engaging and constantly in character. It is easy to tell how much fun the cast is having, which makes it enjoyable for the audience.

Written right after World War II, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s portrayal is almost a comic relief from the hardships of the war. While some of the realities of war are touched on, the horrific parts are skirted. Perhaps that is for the best. “South Pacific” was not written for a generation that demands historical accuracy and a complicated plot. This was written for a generation that had just come out of the biggest economic crisis in history and fought the Second World War. What this generation needed, perhaps, was a mental break. The nonchalance and goofiness made “South Pacific” entertaining. Enough seriousness was added to keep it from being a complete joke, but the mostly lighthearted love story with the mostly happy ending is the charm of the musical.

“South Pacific” is playing at the Fox Theatre from Nov. 9-21. Go see it this weekend; you won’t regret it.

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