Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Corny as Kansas in August? NOT.
So last night I showed up at South Pacific’s opening at the Keller with interest and trepidation. It’s kind of where I came in, as musicals go — with the movie version, anyway, I’m not that old. I was too little to appreciate the story at the time, which I remember as being long and slow. But I grew up hearing the Broadway cast album and knew all the songs by heart, even if I couldn’t quite puzzle out the story. What was going on over on Bali Ha’i, I asked? My parent claimed they didn’t know either.
Come to find out: it’s a terrific story. That’s right, South Pacific actually works as theater, which is amazingly rare with musicals. Debuting in the middle of Rogers and Hammerstein’s incredibly fecund collaboration, it must have been bracing stuff in 1949; it starts out as a love story, and beguiles you into assuming things will develop along certain lines. But just about when you’ve gotten totally comfortable, it has a reversal just before the close of Act I that drew audible gasps throughout the audience last night — from a Portland audience of 2010.
The clip I have here is from the 2008 Tony Awards, with the original Lincoln Center cast, but the touring company I saw last night was top-notch, especially Carmen Cusack as Nellie Forbush, the “high as the Fourth of July” heroine with feet of clay. The voices, the dancing, the production values — particularly Michael Yeargan’s clever set, with its bamboo blinds that morph into sun-dappled water and even manage to suggest time passing — are all superb. (The photo above, by Peter Coombs, is from the tour I saw last night.)
This is the first offering in Broadway Across America’s new season, which has some genuinely thrilling shows in store, most notably In the Heights. But South Pacific, as a perfect extension of Bart Sher’s celebrated production, is the absolute must-see. And you only have through this Sunday, August 8, to catch it, so hurry up. This is one show where it's worth popping for the expensive seats.