Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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As Luther Billis and company declare what exactly is unlike anything else in the world while Nellie Forbush washes charming Emile de Becque out of her hair, it becomes obvious that spunk is something Rodgers’, Hammerstein’s, and Logan’s South Pacific delivers in spades.  Drawing from James A. Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, Bartlett Sher’s endeavor is an enjoyable experience that fails to be anything more socially responsible.
The problem lies not in the concept but the direction.  Despite having the original Broadway production, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and Michener’s novel, a cold and painful criticism of our society, available for reference, the 2008 revival pushes more towards being a comedy, something the very fabric of the story doesn’t allow.  The plot revolves around the lives of soldiers tied in war, a woman whose mindset is as broad as her hometown of “Small Rock,” a young soldier tied between tradition and love, a man losing his love because of those same traditions, and a woman desperately trying to find someone to take care of her child when she isn’t there, all of which are topics so bleak that comedy is out of the question.  While it can be argued that many satires have comedic elements with characters in even worse situations, the ridge between satire and comedy is a very fine line to walk and this production clearly crossed over to the other side.
Despite this, the play does have its charms. Looking past the aforementioned issue, the play does the comedy part with noticeable pizzazz.  Paulo Szot and Kelli O’Hara deliver their comedic lines in a realistic way that makes the jokes laughable without making the dialogue as such.  Matthew Morrison is a weakness of the production, delivering his lines without that slight exaggeration that is crucial in a medium without facial close-ups.  The original Bloody Mary was not in show that day and the replacement, while comical, was a poor choice and far too young to play the part of a desperate mother and wise salesman.  But without a doubt, the star of the show is Luther Billis, brilliantly portrayed by Danny Burstein.  Burstein is full of energy, stealing scene after scene from his co-actors without ever coming off as annoying.  It is largely due to his brilliant portrayal that one can laugh at this play, despite its neglected dark undertones.
On the technical side of things, the play is nothing remarkable.  The sets are efficiently made and there are no awe-inspiring moments in any way due to the lighting, sound, costumes, etc.  On technical merits alone, the play definitely gets the job done, making the setting passable but never bringing it to life.
South Pacific had the potential to be something more than just entertainment, seeing as how it touches on problems still present in our society today.  That having been said, it truly is a charming, energetic production and definitely inspires laughs but nothing more.