Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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South Pacific: Dites-moi, pourquoi le spectacle a été magnifique

           Adapted from James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific showcased at the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center on August 21, 2008 was nothing short of extravagant.
           Set in World War II on an island in the South Pacific, we meet Nellie Forbush, a young naïve nurse from Arkansas, who falls deeply in love with Emile de Becque, a French plantation owner. As the play progresses several revelations unfold about Emile’s mysterious past, and Nellie must battle an internal struggle, stuck at the crossroads to follow her heart, or her head. Meanwhile, Lt. Joseph Cable, a handsome Princeton grad, lands on the island with a secret mission. However, Luther Billis, a seabee, convinces Cable to travel to the exotic and forbidden island of Bali Ha’i. There he encounters Bloody Mary, a Tonkinese woman the equivalent of a modern day hustler.  Soon after, Lt. Cable unexpectedly falls head over heels for Bloody Mary’s innocent young daughter Liat. Like Nellie, Lt. Cable must also combat his own biases despite his deep love.

           Opening the play with “Dites-Moi,” Paulo Szot as Emile de Becque, begins his superb vocal performance. Alongside his two children, Szot’s effortless command and graceful singing captures the audience. Kelli O’Hara as Nellie not only nails her character’s hick accent and persona, but she too wins over the audience with her voice. The duo’s “Some Enchanted Evening,” allows the audience to identify with the romance, passion, and tension one feels with a new love.
           The orchestra conducted by Ted Sperling does a marvelous job of mirroring and emphasizing the events occurring on stage. Whether it’s the desperate pleasure-seeking sailors singing the memorable number “There’s Nothin’ like a Dame,” or the more serious “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,” the orchestra sets the mood and captures all the emotions.
           The smooth transition of scenes and dynamic stage props, made it virtually unnoticeable when the setting dramatically transitioned from inside the Commander’s office, to Emile’s lavish plantation, to the navy base, or to Bali Ha’i.
           Although she was the understudy, Maryann Hu entertained the crowd with Bloody Mary and her “fo dollah” beckoning, and manipulation of the sailors. Perhaps one of the comedic highlights was when Danny Burstein, portraying Luther Billis, dressed in drag, teasing and entertaining the sailors with Nellie and the other nurses.
           There’s never a dull moment in South Pacific, as the play goes through many ups and downs, while always keeping the passion, chemistry, and charisma at its peak. Whether it’s Nellie who’s “corny as Kansas in August, High as a flag on the fourth of July,” or the suave and mysterious Emile De Becque, each actor goes beyond fully playing the part, they become the part. The energy created by the teamwork and harmony of all the elements coming together makes South Pacific a riveting musical.