Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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(Just a Few) Tales of the South Pacific

Bartlett Sher’s revival of the 1950’s Rogers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific” is more like a rebirth. The production illuminates the controversy that played such a big part in the original production. Unlike most revivals, “South Pacific” is not a foggy reenactment of an outdated show; it is brought to us in full color, with all the vivacity of the first showing.
The stars of the show, Kelli O’Hara and Paulo Szot, manage to recreate the flame of intrigue and excitement that dazzled us in Michener’s novel, on which the play was based. O’Hara who plays Nurse Nellie, falls under the spell of wealthy French plantation owner Emille (Szot) as she struggles to reconcile her decision to leave Little Rock, Arkansas. Love blossoms (in less lurid detail than with Captain Cable and his lover, Liat) until Nellie becomes aware of Emile’s cross-cultural past. The political message of “South Pacific” is no less applicable today than it was in the past. However, most audience members are drawn to the production because of the highly polished cast and orchestra.
Both O’hara and Szot are indubitably talented; the range of songs in “South Pacific” is unlike any other. From the buoyant and sassy, “Wash that man right out of my hair” to the mysteriously tropical “Bali Hai,” the production’s song set alone is enough to keep the audience pleased. To add to the experience, the “South Pacific” set is magnificently structured and designed. The ambience of the Southeast Asian Island that readers enjoyed so thoroughly in the novel is recreated in Lincoln Center in its entirety. One wonders how the crew transforms the stage from Emile’s grandiose mansion to Bloody Mary’s sandy beaches with such an effortless precision. Both the song and set contribute to the passionate experience sought after by South Pacific viewers.