CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rodgers & Hammerstein's "South Pacific" came to the Clay Center last night, as part of the Broadway in Charleston series, on a revival tour of the original 1949 musical.
"South Pacific" is a somewhat strange assemblage of song and soap opera. It was like having a season's worth of plot lines jammed into a three-hour musical. Everything from shrunken heads, secret children, murder, and naked sailors to ritualistic seduction scenes are mixed in with progressive interracial relationship views. Quite frankly, at times, it borders on the bizarre.
The well-known songs like "Some Enchanted Evening", "There is Nothing Like a Dame" and "I'm Gonna to Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" have worked their way into the lexicon of American music so thoroughly that it is possible many people know the songs without really knowing where they originated. For that reason alone it is nice to see a revival of a classic like "South Pacific." It makes the show and the storyline accessible to a new generation of theater fans.
An expatriate Frenchman, Emile de Becque (Marcelo Guzzo); a naïve girl from Little Rock, Nellie Forbush (Katie Reid); and a Marine from Pennsylvania, Lt. Joseph Cable (Shane Donovan), make up the main characters in the convoluted plot, but they are easily upstaged by the secondary, quirky, characters such as Christian Marriner (Luther Billis) and Bloody Mary (Cathy Foy-Mahi).
The campy, funny songs in this production far outshine the plodding, sad, heavily romanticized numbers that seemed to drag on forever. Unfortunately, the witty numbers are not enough to save it from a fate worse than over-sentimentality.
South Pacific was, overall, an entertaining show but it drags, frequently getting bogged down in its own melodrama. The plot twists leave it hard to follow and de Becque's accent, while supposedly French, sounded much more like a bad Count Dracula and made his numbers difficult to understand, rendering some songs completely unintelligible. Generally there was a problem with the sound levels and much of the dialogue was difficult to make out.
On the other hand, the sets were quite amazing. The transitions between scenes were fast and flawless and these were not simple sets. Everything from an island plantation home to a bootleg market and bath house made their way across the Clay Center stage. The set design and scenery was definitely one of the highlights of this show. The costumes were also great, especially the '40's style swim suits and uniforms.
South Pacific, while a classic, is one of those shows that is better remembered than endured. The songs that stick in your head are the ones that should be enjoyed and remembered. The others can be left at the theater.