Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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Sunlight on the Sand AND Dames Aplenty

what aint they got?

what ain't they got?

Ladies and Gentlemen, there is sunlight on the sand and dames aplenty in the sparkling new revival of Roger and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” regardless of what twinkling hedonist Luther Billis’ (as played by a cheeky Danny Burnstein) groans.

Stepping into the theater I instantly felt a sense of glee and burning anticipation in the crowd. This anticipation was not misplaced as I observed that many of the beaming theatergoers were probably old enough to have seen the original “South Pacific”.  I wondered if this musical was good enough to see more than once and after watching it, I am sure it is. Their anticipation slowly changed into participation as I was touched by many couples sitting side by side slowly singing along or mouthing the words. My peers and I may not have been in the same situations but the wonderful thing about “South Pacific” and its classic score is simply that. It is classic and will always be relevant. It is a multifaceted gem of sorts to be handed down from generation to generation and to bridge the generation gap.

Dancing sailors, buff baritones and naïve nurses, Machiavellian islanders all entangled in some way in the other, other side of the pond on a small island during World War Two. Simple enough right? Mix in to these already mixed relations the themes of romance and prejudice (oh and don’t forget war ) on an island far away from Princeton. Suddenly the backhanded accusations of people who say that Rogers and Hammerstein took too much of a lighthearted approach to addressing these issues are silenced by the brooding and gaunt Lt. Cable and thus we are “carefully taught”. Poor, poor Liat, the daughter of a not so innocent but certainly more obscenely amusing Bloody Mary played by Loretta Ables Sayre brings out a self torture in Lt. Cable and even the passive audience member who tries to reconcile their nature with their upbringing.  It is only fair to say that this remains relevant today.

It is easy to oversimplify things in the pursuit of a quick, convenient exchange of ideas. Good thing this musical in particular incorporated the choreography, sets, character studies and songs that were simple but remained true to the old time good feelings of the era of the greatest generation. As the bamboo screens parted to reveal aesthetically airy arches and then revealed a simple makeshift stage or the beach. The choreography itself was not too fussy and its simplicity only added to the charm of the musical.

I myself resisted the impulse to softly sway to Paulo Szot’s particularly rich baritone as he graced the stage with the youthful cock-eyed optimist that was and is the fresh Kelli O’Hara, but I have to say that I found myself humming incessantly. For a first time viewer of “South Pacific” I think that is enough. I look forward to a next time. In fact, I anticipate it and that is half the joy that this musical brings.