Chicago Theatre Review
“South Pacific” is calling. Enjoy this tropical treat.
By Lazlo Collins
When you love theater as much as I do, and you are of a certain age, you have either been IN a production of “South Pacific” or have SEEN innumerable amateur productions of “South Pacific”. This being the situation in both cases, I was excited to see a professional production in all its glory. From the buzz at the 2008 Tony award winning production from Lincoln Center, I was looking forward to this new revival.
With the overture intact, underscoring what can only be described as, homage to the color slide tinting of “South Pacific” the movie, on the act curtain, I was excited to hear the classic songs of this winning musical.
If you are not familiar with the story of “South Pacific” it is the story of a World War Two romance. She is Nellie Forbush, the naïve girl from Little Rock, and he is Emile de Becque, the suave, plantation owning, Frenchman who left his native town because he, yes, killed a man.
The story goes deeper than war torn lovers thrust together. It weaves the tale of race and discrimination based on the color of skin and the consequences of following one’s heart and not what we are taught.
As “Nellie Forbush”, Jennie Sophia brings her strong acting chops and pleasant personality into the role. She has stepped into the role with enthusiasm and grace. She brings a lovely dependable voice. Her opposite is “Emil de Becque” played by opera guy Marcello Guzzo. He is solid and sings beautifully the shows familiar musical pining’s. The pair has a believable rapport and keep their scenes moving throughout the show.
Cathy Foy-Mahi as “Bloody Mary” puts in a standard performance. Her accent came and went from time to time and I actually wanted her to be even bolder, but she won me over with her creepy version of “Happy Talk”. The irony of attempting to make things cheerful with her dark intent was great.
While I enjoyed all the seabees, ensigns, and sailors in the show, they kept the action lively and fun. “Luther Billis”, (Christian Marriner) was a standout throughout the whole south sea adventure. His energy and enthusiasm was a noticeable addition.
Shane Donovan as “Lt. Joe Cable” was pleasing as the dutiful Marine. His voice was amazing and clear. I found him to be pleasant and very matinee idol like. I think I did want to see more consternation about decision to leave his lover “Liat”. (Hsin-Yu Llao)
A shout out to James Graham who played “Commander Harbison”, I thought his stage presence was outstanding and his strong but sensitive commander was superb.
The rest of the cast romping on the island were fun to watch and voices with all the familiar songs took me back to the first time I had heard the album at my bubba’s house when I was young.
The set was just right for me. It seemed like a post card with every scene. It was simple in its use with this traveling production. The themes seemed fresh and new for today; and not from 1949.
This production of South Pacific both made me nostalgic and satisfied. Not bad for the sometimes maligned Rodgers and Hammerstein. I think we could all use a dose of corny sweetness once in a while.
You can enjoy this treat of a south sea adventure and Bali Ha’i through Feb. 26, 2012 at the Cadillac Palace Theater. www.broadwayinchicago.com