A truly enchanting evening

South Pacific was set in the early years of the Second World War and we are reminded of it as the cast head off to battle

South Pacific

The New Alexandra Theatre

****

TWO of the stars were missing from this revival of the Rodgers & Hammerstein's classic musical. I though I had better mention it because if no one had told you, you would never have known.

With Samantha Womack ill Carly Anderson, whose day job is as a nurse in the ensemble, stepped up to the plate as Nellie Forbush as if born to the role and her voice and acting could not be faulted - and nor could her Southern USA drawl

Alex Ferns has done his back in so Cameron Jack, normally Stewpot, took on the comedy role of Luther Billis, a sort of American cross between Sgt Bilko and Del Boy, as if he had been doing it all his life.

The pair ensured that no one could leave the Alex feeling they had been short-changed – and what a pleasure to see the Alex full and alive again but more of that later.

Nellie washes that man right out of her hair in the island's makeshift shower and we even had (a little) real water and (a little) wet hair

This Lincoln Centre Theater  production is a slick interpretation of  what is widely regarded as one of the greatest musicals of all time.

It tells the story of a nurse, Nellie,  from Little Rock, Arkansas – later infamous in the battle for civil rights – who falls in love with a French planter, Emile De Becque (Matthew Cammelle) with a dark past and is then appalled when she finds he has two mixed race children and his late wife was a  . . . Polynesian woman. Racial prejudice trumped love every time in the 1940s, especially if you are from the Southern states.

Running side by side is the tale of  Lt Joseph Cable who happily deflowers Liat (Elizabeth Chong) pimped out to him by her mother Bloody Mary (Loretta Ables Sayer) but can't marry a native girl even though he loves her and it fills him with guilt and remorse.

The two men, one rejected by his love the other having rejected his love,  end up as heroes spotting for bombers behind enemy lies in the third strand of the story, the Second World War in the Pacific.

Lt Joe Cable (Daniel Koek) takes advantage of Liat but can't marry her.

The story is perhaps a little dated these days with the idea of natives being so subservient to the US troops, all in broken English, and the racial themes seem a little clunky now – but this was a musical that premiered in 1949 remember when its interracial theme was not only controversial but there were calls for the song You've Got to be Carefully Taught to be banned as un-American and communist.

The song is sung by Cable who proceeds it by saying racisim “is not born in you! It happens after you are born.” In a nation where black people were still being lynched for little more than being black it was explosive stuff.

Broadway actress Loretta Ables Sayer, from the original Lincoln Center production, is a frightening Bloody Mary, much more sinister than in the past with Happy Talk having a dark side unseen before. She makes it a chilling little number and even Bali Ha'i has more Hammer Horror than Thomson Holidays about it in her hands. A marvellous performance with a stunning voice.

West End regular Cammelle had showstopping performances of Some Enchanted Evening and a wonderfully emotional This Nearly Was Mine with his velvety rich baritone while Koek, last seen in Birmingham as Anatoly Sergievsk in Craig Revel-Horwood's brilliant Chess, excels with his tenor voice in Younger Than Springtime and the bittersweet You've Got to be Carefully Taught.

Jack produces a lively and raunchy There is Nothing Like a Dame  while Anderson is wonderful as Nellie with numbers such as Twin Soliloquies with Emile, I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair and My Girl Back Home with Cable.

The show within a show as the troops celebrate Thanksgiving with Nellie and Billis, in drag, as the stars.

Supporting characters such as Commander Harbison (Dominic Taylor) and Captain Brackett (Nigel Williams) add to the colour and authenticity with an ensemble who manage to look and sound like Americans.

The set, by Michael Yeargan, is simple and clever while Donald Holder's lighting is romantic or dramatic, a South Sea beach or wartime evening as required.

The 17 piece orchestra, conducted by Peter McCarthy, is also worthy of mention for making each number sound fresh and familiar all at the same time.

Directed by Bartlett Sher, South Pacific runs to 18-02012.

Roger Clarke

*It has been two years today since Ambassador Theatre Group's take over of the Alex, and 15 other Live Nation venues, in a £90 million deal was approved and the fruits of that union are now beginning to bear fruit with the last few months seeing big shows once more heading to Station Street. Along with the Hippodrome it makes the city a much more exciting place for theatregoers providing choice rather than competition. ATG are producers of Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker at the Hippodrome this week incidentally.

Meanwhile on the next island . . .

****

THERE are two lines in one of the hit songs in Rodgers & Hammerstein's great wartime musical which were particularly suitable for this particular production.

While the Marines on a Pacific island during World War II lament the lack of female contact, they sing ‘There is nothing like a dame', and about ‘something there ain't no substitute for'.

Two of the leads, Samantha Womack and Alex Ferns, had to miss the first few performances, the former with a chest infection and the latter needing treatment for a back injury.

But, proving she is quite a ‘dame' herself, Carly Anderson stepped up from her minor role as a military nurse to give a remarkably good performance as Ensign Nellie Forbush who has to overcome her Little Rock prejudices when she falls in love with French plantation owner Emile De Becque – a widower with two mixed race children.

And Cameron Jack was promoted from playing Stewpot to face the heat of the main comedy spot, playing the loveable rogue Luther Billis with enormous energy and confidence.

I haven't seen so many customers pouring into this theatre for some time, and they were certainly given value for money in the Lincoln Center Theater Production.

Matthew Cammelle ( De Becque) is superb. You can't escape the emotion when he sings Some Enchanted Evening and This Nearly Was Mine.

The troops may have had difficulty lifting chubby Loretta Ables Sayre (Blood Mary) shoulder high, but when she sings Bali Ha'i and Happy Talk, her voice is stunning.

Directed by Bartlett Sher with Jae Alexander's musical direction, South Pacific runs to 18.02.12

Paul Marston

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