The production that had Sydney audiences and critics raving has rolled into Melbourne, and there’s not much I can add to Aussie Theatre reviewer Cassie Tongue’s comprehensive and glowing endorsement. This version of South Pacific is superbly entertaining and a deserved triumph for Opera Australia.
The undoubted star of the evening is Lisa McCune, who seamlessly manages the belt to lyric vocal demands of the role, while never missing a dramatic beat with her consummate acting. Her radiant Nellie Forbush makes her love affair with the plantation owner Emile (Teddy Tahu Rhodes) entirely believable, and I admit I had a little tear at the end.
The other standout is Daniel Coek as Joe Cable. Hot from his run in the same role on London’s West End, Coek is a superb singer-actor, showed to best effect in ‘You’ve got to be carefully taught’. When he was on stage I couldn’t keep my eyes away from him – this guy has serious star quality, and why he hasn’t been singled out more in the reviews so far is a real mystery.
Surprise success is, for me, Kate Cebrano. Even with stained teeth and a limp, Cebrano is gorgeous and it took some time to get used to her sensuous version of Bloody Mary. But while her pop-jazz inflections in the songs were initially a bit difficult for my purist ear, her rendition of ‘Happy Talk’ showed layers of understanding often absent in other performers of this role. Yes folks, she can act!
Another, so far unsung, hero of the show was veteran actor John O’May as Captain Brackett. One of Australia’s music theatre royalty, O’May, like safe hands guiding the ship, brought an air of solid self-assurance whenever he was on the stage.
In addition to the uniformly fine performances of all the principals and the fabulous chorus of sailors and nurses, it is the vision of Broadway director Bart Sher that makes this a special night of theatre.
[pull_left]This production finds a perfect balance between straight out entertainment and social comment[/pull_left]
Where previous versions of this musical (and the movie) suggest that South Pacific is somewhat sentimental and old-fashioned in its politics, this multiple Tony Award winning production finds a perfect balance between straight out entertainment and social comment. Small but important examples include the segregation of black and white chorus members, subtly underscoring the issues of racism inherent in the piece; and the explicit sexual relationship between the traumatised Cable and a clearly underage Liat (Celina Yuen), which is played so well it took my breath away.
My only criticism of this production concerns the sound design. In a ‘one size fits all’ scenario, it was often difficult to keep track of who was delivering the dialogue (especially from chorus members). And the over amplification of Teddy Tahu Rhodes’ booming voice had him at times visibly holding back, with a negative effect on his acting. Granted, it was opening night in a new theatre – hopefully things will improve and subsequent audiences will get to hear this magnificent singer at his best.