The Hippodrome’s South Pacific (part of a national tour based on the Tony Award- winning 2008 Lincoln Center production) is everything and more that one expects from such a well-loved musical. The focus of the design staff on creating a rich, historically accurate picture of the South Pacific during the Second World War – provides a stunning backdrop for the songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein and the (still relevant) social issues addressed in the book.
The play begins and ends with quotes painted large on the drops, from James A. Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific. During the overture, lights (designed by Donald Holder) shift through all the colors of the Pacific, ending with purples and yellows reminiscent of a tropical sunset, and the audience feels as if they are truly being taken on a journey to someplace far away.
The sets by Michael Yeargan in the original production, with additional sets by Mikiko Suzuki Macadams, go beyond pure exotica to emphasize the clash between the untouched beauty of the South Pacific and the American utilitarianism of the military occupation. Catherine Zuber’s costumes are a picture perfect representation of the period and provide (especially in the costumes of the nurses) a glimpse of how many of the characters still long for their far away American homes.
Several very good leads and an outstanding supporting cast bring the technical elements to life. Marcelo Guzzo lends his beautiful operatic voice to “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine.” Katie Reid, as Nellie, is bright, a little naïve, and exceedingly likable. Here renditions of “A Cockeyed Optimist” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” are full of energy. You want everything to work out for Nellie, which makes the discovery at the end of the first act a betrayal of the audience as well as Emile.
Several members of the supporting cast, particularly Christian Marriner as Billis and Cathy Foy-Mahi as Bloody Mary, are the true stars of the show. Foy-Mahi’s “Bali H’ai” is beautifully sung and her rendition “Happy Talk” is delightful. Marriner is refreshingly funny as the rule-breaking Seabee, and Foy-Mahi is both hilarious and disturbing as the unscrupulous Tonkinese woman. Shane Donovan (Lieutenant Joseph Cable) delivers a beautiful rendition of “Younger Than Springtime.” The ensemble is filled with fine singers and dancers, but Jenny Piersol (Sue Yager) deserves special mention for making me laugh out loud several times during what could have just been filler.
In the end, the reason one goes to a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is to hear the songs they love sung by great talents, and to have a wonderful time: this production delivers on both counts. It will leave with a ‘Bali High.’
The South Pacific national tour website.