Review: An Enchanted Evening . . . at the Ordway's "South Pacific"

Photo by Peter Coombs

Okay, it is corny. Perhaps even “As corny as Kansas in August” as Nellie Forbush gloriously sings in the song “A Wonderful Guy,” but opening night at the Ordway’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” was, actually, enchanting.
“South Pacific’s” music was romantic, poignant and upbeat, the casting brilliant, and the themes of war, prejudice and love still resonant more than half a century after the play was written and first performed.
If you read my article about the Ordway’s “South Pacific” back in April you’ll remember that I knew nothing about this show until last month. Unlike the Pioneer Press’ theater critic Dominic Papatola, who was across the aisle from me in the Ordway last night, air conducting along with the music in the show, I was clueless as to where each next scene might take me, shocked with the exhibitions of racism, and wowed with the expressions of love.
As Nellie would say, I was “immature and incurably green” before I sat down in the Ordway’s plush red seats. And the show was still enchanting.

Photo by Peter Coombs

You do not need to have seen the 1958 film, or the original Broadway production in order to enjoy this old-school Broadway musical, although I’m sure some of the members of the audience last night had seen both. All you need is a desire for an evening of enjoyment that takes you back a bit, and then ricochets you right to the present.
Yes, there are a few moments in the play where you may mumble to yourself (or to your +1) that what you’re watching is “so 1950s.” But watching this play is nothing like watching a movie from the 1950s, where every moment you’re accosted with unreality in style and in content. The racism against the natives in “South Pacific” sounds remarkably familiar, as does the military posturing and emptiness, the pain and desire of the men waiting to go to war, and then fearing what they find. And if you’re hopelessly in love, or believe you one day could be, well, then you’ll do your fair share of sighing at the drama of love sought, won, lost and won again.
Complaints? I have very few. The lead female, Carmen Cusack, who plays Ensign Nellie Forbush, is outstanding as a singer, actress and dancer. Rod Gilfrey, the Frenchman Emile de Becque that she falls in love with, on the other hand, was not an ideal pick as a singer. Don’t get me wrong, his voice is stunning. But he is classically trained in Opera and there is no doubt that on some of these sliding, silly songs his voice was a bit too much. “Some Enchanted Evening,” however, worked flawlessly with his deep and powerful voice, and that was my favorite musical number in the piece, so I’m torn on that complaint.
I also was a bit weirded out by how young Liat, the native girl is in the show. Lieutenant Joseph Cable falls in love with her, they make love in the dark, and the whole time I’m thinking gross! How old is she, 14? A Google search shows that Liat is supposed to be about 17 (the stage directions state when she enters that “A small figure appears in a doorway, a girl, perhaps seventeen”). Liat is part of the Broadway touring cast of the show, so, like the Frenchman, you can’t hold it against the Ordway, but it was a bit distracting at times.
The musical will make you laugh, gasp and cry. And I don’t want to say when or why. Just go see the show.
TC Jewfolk has a great discount. From now through the end of the show’s run on May 16th, for $35 (plus fees) you can get seats in Scales 2-4 (prices are usually $62.50 — $75.00). When you buy your tickets for the show, just use the Promo Code “JEWFOLK.” The TC Jewfolk discount is not good on previously purchased tickets and is subject to availability.


One of my favorite numbers, “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame”

(Note: While my tickets to South Pacific were complimentary, I would only recommend an event that I personally enjoyed and believed would add value to my readers.)