Musicals

 

 

 

 

 

THE IMPOSTERS

 

A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

Bob Boyett, Robert G. Bartner and Norman Tulchin, Howard Panter for the Ambassador Theatre Group, Edward A Crozier and Julian Gleek for Genesius Theatrical Productions in association with Promenade Production, Roger Berlind, Bill Kenwright, Tom Miller and Tim Levy present

 

 

European Premiere

 

Lincoln Center Theater production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s

 
South Pacific

 

Loretta Ables Sayre (Bloody Mary) centre with the Seabees credit Simon Annand.

 

Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan

 

Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning novel

Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener

 

Music by Richard Rogers


Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II


Original stage production directed by Joshua Logan


Sets by Michael Yeargan


Costumes – Catherine Zuber

Lighting – Donald Holder


Sound – Scott Lehrer


Dance and Incidental Music Arrangements – Trude Rittmann

 

Musical Director – Jae Alexander

 

Musical Supervisor – Ted Sperling

 

Musical Staging – Christopher Gattelli

 

Orchestrations – Robert Russell Bennett

 

Directed by Bartlett Sher

 

Produced by Special Arrangement with Rogers and

Hammerstein: An Imagen Company

 

Barbican Theatre

 

12 August – 1 October 2011

 

 

From the moment the first strains of Richard Rogers’ beloved score waft through the air, you will feel transported – to another clime and time - Michener’s South Pacific, circa WWII, where G.I.s long for sweethearts, French planter Emile De Becque hopes pretty, young Nurse Nellie returns his love and the two volcanoes of Bali Hi, that enchanting little isle across the waves, peep alluringly thorough the mist.

If there was ever a musical with more content and classic, hit show songs than this one, I’ve yet to hear of it! ‘Bali Hi’, ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair’, ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’, ‘Bloody Mary,’ ‘Younger Than Springtime,’ each of which could quality for best song in any musical. All of which and more are performed here with flair and affection by a twenty-five piece orchestra! Are you set on getting tickets yet? If not, you’re not a fan of this musical – yet…Consider the fact that the show also features a gang of talented ‘swing’ performers posing as U.S. sailors, several dashing officers and scads of romance… it also bravely (especially for 1949), realistically addresses various aspects of prejudice: racism, as detailed in the song, ‘You Have to Be Carefully Taught’, in which Lieutenant Cable famously tells his Tonkinese friends, that, ‘you have to be carefully taught…to hate all the people your relatives hate’, and even, classism - American style, with dog-faced sailors taunting their smooth ‘Ivy League’ officer. In addition, we even have the officers’ momentary bouts of confusion about what they’re meant to be fighting for, though it’s understood what they’re fighting against. Given all the storyline’s angles, and the show’s great music, if it’s still not a cinch you’ll be going yet, then you’re not one of the ‘Cock-eyed Optimists’ Nellie sings of in ‘I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy’ (yet another fabulous number)…Hopefully what follows will help you become one…

When entering the theatre, you will literally, be greeted by a literary curtain, an oversized page, really, featuring the opening lines of Michener’s succinct Tales of the South Pacific, in bold black type, detailing the intrigues of his life there as a member of the armed forces during WWII. The memories haunt him just as vividly as the spectre of Bali Hi itself, where French planters stashed their young daughters for the duration, and G.I.s sighed across the seemingly vast divide of sea separating them.

Michael Yeargan’s evocative, smoothly changed sets place us there, whether we’re in a hilltop mansion high above the Pacific or on the grimy base where boisterous sailors do their best to act aimless when no officers are in sight and Tonkinese Bloody Mary plies her tatty souvineers. All of the components akin to the Pulitzer Prize winning musical you’d expect to see are there, from the make-shift shower the show’s heroine Nellie ‘washes that man’ outta her hair in, to the on-base ‘stage’ the Seabees entertain each other from come Thanksgiving. Dark rattan furnishings and slatted bamboo screens enhance that tropical feeling in Emile’s hilltop home, as do the palm trees dotting the imaginary shoreline where nurses and sailors lull or hurry along In the course of their wartime duties. Catherine Zuber’s costumes also enable belief in Michener’s war-time realities via crisp nurses uniforms, ‘home-made’ outfits for the Thanksgiving show, satin evening gowns for soirees, natty officer’s uniforms with high boots, traditional, blue and white sailor’s togs and Emile’s neckerchiefs, rolled sleeve shirts and riding trousers. Likewise, Donald Holder’s atmospheric lighting which casts shadows and/or adds sunshine or shimmer as needed, sinking casually towards a tropical sunset, before moving into relentlessly silvery, romantic moonlight. Scott Leher’s design boasts the tension heightening sound of WWII planes intermittently roaring above.

 

Samantha-Womack-as-Nellie-Forbush-with-the-Nurses-credit-Simon-Annand

 

This enchanting show begins in the palatial plantation home of dashing, middle-aged planter Emile De Becque (Paulo Szot), as he entertains Nellie (Samantha Womack), the young woman he feels himself falling for, even though they only met two weeks before. Their talk fairly bristles with the electricity of their mutual attraction. Yet, Nellie remains cautious, as getting closer could mean giving up all she’s ever known. Back on the base, a gang of lonesome sailors miss the one thing there’s not enough of – Dames!

High up on the thrill-o-meter, interwoven with the show’s laurel strewn songs, and the orchestra’s enthusiastic playing of them, is Brazilian opera singer/actor Paulo Szot’s absolutely stunning singing of them! Being a stalwart of the original Emile - Enzo Pinza’s singing of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ from the 1949 Broadway production of South Pacific, which I grew up loving, I was floored by Szot’s comparable, spine-tingling handling of that and other potentially lump in the throat generating gems, such as the mournful ballad ‘This Nearly Was Mine.’ Judging by the rapturous applause following both of these numbers (not something you see at every musical) many agreed with me on that score! As if that wasn’t enough, Szot’s debonair demeanor and emotive acting made me wonder if I’d dream of running away with his Emile myself that night! Thrills of the calibre Szot generates are rare in musical theatre today.

Although she handles the singing portion of her role very well indeed, Samantha Womack as Szot’s love interest Nellie couldn’t hope to match her paramour’s incredibly high standards in terms of acting or vocals. Even so, her playing of the role is warm - hearted and we find ourselves rooting for her Nellie, despite occasional variances in her Arkansas accent. That said, it must be added that Womack exudes charm through her exuberant performing and dancing of the lively ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair’ and ‘Honey Bun’ , as well as the aforementioned, ‘A Wonderful Guy’ through which she could easily persuade the most stoic of men to fall in love with her.  

Daniel Koek turns in a finely layered performance as Lieutenant Cable, the allegedly tough young officer bewitched by Bali Hi, who sings the immortal ballad, ‘Younger than Springtime’ to the beautiful Tonkinese girl, Liat, played with passionate innocence by Elizabeth Chong. It is a task Koek carries out most admirably, aptly drawing his own share of thunderous applause at song (and show’s) end.

Luther Billis, roughish king of the sailors, as played by Alex Ferns, provided plenty of laughs with his happy go lucky, wise guy antics, reminiscent of those enacted by Ernie (Phil Silvers) on Sergeant Bilko.  Ferris does a great job of showing all the nuances of Billis’ character, or lack thereof, allowing glimpses of the soft spots beneath his rough and ready exterior, as he leads his fellow sailors through the lusty choruses of ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’ Hearty cheers greeting his curtain calls were well deserved.

 

Alex-Ferns-(Billis)-and-Samantha-Womack-(Nellie)-with-the-Nurses-credit-Simon-Annand

 

Loretta Ables Sayre’s singing voice, a beguiling mixture of tremulous grit. tinged with bitter-sweet longing, drew kudos as she cast a spell over the audience with her rendering of ‘Bali Hi’ near the end of Act I, setting the tone for intrigues to come. In addition to adding comic moments in conjunction with some of the Seabees, Sayre’s easy shifts into ‘reality’ lend dramatic impetus as the story progressed.

As earthed Captain Brackett, Nigel Williams put one in mind of US WWII president, FDR with his tall, broad shouldered frame, strong facial features and white hair, appropriate considering the time and place of his character. Brackett’s sharp wit and knowing persona occasionally gave way to his seemingly, inborn sense of humour, a trait both the sailors serving under him and the audience greatly appreciated.

Brackett’s younger but sterner side-kick, Harbison, ably played by Dominic Taylor, seemed to represent ‘a new breed’ of by the book officer, compared to his Captain’s more individualistic, old-school approach. Such generational differences lend interest as well as realistic texture to the musical’s vibrant storyline.

But what would South Pacific be without its energetic troupe of sailors and nurses? Sprightly nurses enable Nellie to shine as their star through enthusiastic singing and dancing, brought up several notches by Trude Tittmann’s buoyant choreography which sends Nellie and cohorts rushing up ladders and along shore, while belting their message to the rafters on ‘A Wonderful Guy’. On I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair’ Nellie scrubs away, suds n all, after which she and the nurses enact a ribald little romp, snapping their towels as though so many manly pests were being flicked from their newly uncomplicated lives. The sailors, lead by Alex Ferns’ Billis, also have their moments as they cavort through ‘Dame’ and Ferris as Billis becomes Nellie’s coconut shell bra wearing, grass skirted gal for ‘Honey Bun’ in the Seabees’ show, while the other sailors noisily egg him on.

The 2008 revival of South Pacific was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, going on to win Best Musical Revival, Best Actor (Paulo Szot), Best Director (Bartlett Sher), Best Scenic Design (Michael Yeargan), Best Costume Design (Catherine Zuber), Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Donald Holder), and Best Sound Design of a Musical (Scott Leher).  In its’ original 1949 Tony Award winning production, this Pulitzer Prize winning show, adapted from Michener’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, published in 1947, was the first musical to win all four acting awards, a record that still stands today.

South Pacific has long been a favourite of theatre-goers the world over, for good reasons: its’ incomparable collection of songs, thought-provoking, multi-stranded storyline, and, in capable hands such as those of Director Bartlett Sher’s, its’ ability to move, entertain and inspire sixty-two years on.

 

Daniel Koek (Cable) and Elizabeth Chong (Liat) credit Simon Annand
 
Barbican Theatre
Silk Street,
London,
EC2Y 8DS
 
Tickets: £15 – 85
Performance time: 19.30 (Thu and Sat matinees 14.30)
Running time: 180 mins / incl interval
http://www.barbican.org.uk/theatre/event-detail.asp?ID=12004\
 
 
 

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