EmptyVivian Beaumont Theatre, New York
It seems astonishing that this Lincoln Center Theater production marks the first Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific" since its 1949 premiere.
Sure, the book, co-written by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan, has its problematical aspects. And the huge cast requirement -- this version features no less than 40 performers -- obviously has something to do with it. But how is it possible that the Great White Way has had to wait more than a half a century to again hear such classic songs as "Some Enchanted Evening," "Younger Than Springtime," "There Is Nothin' Like a Dame," "Bali Ha'i," "A Wonderful Guy" and numerous others?
Fittingly, it's the music that is the most prominent aspect of the production, as evidenced by the starring role of the large orchestra. At the beginning of the evening, it receives a huge ovation, before the stage slowly extends over the musicians to bring the performers closer to the audience.
Directed by Bartlett Sher, this lavish production doesn't always succeed on a purely dramatic level, with the story line involving the major characters never quite connecting the way it should. But it does do full justice to the glorious score, and that's more than enough.
Kelli O'Hara, coming off of a series of musical-theater triumphs with "The Light in the Piazza," "The Pajama Game" (both resulting in Tony nominations) and the concert version of "My Fair Lady," plays nurse Nellie Forbush, whose burgeoning romantic relationship with mysterious French plantation owner Emile de Becque (Paulo Szot) becomes threatened by her racial prejudice concerning his mixed-race children.
That central relationship is echoed by the doomed romance between the Princeton-educated Navy airman Joe Cable (Matthew Morrison) and a young native girl, Liat (Li Jun Li).
Unfortunately, we never become as emotionally invested in these characters as much as we should. The main performers simply don't bring the requisite charm to their roles; O'Hara and Morrison stress the seriousness of their characters' predicaments at the expense of much of their humor, and Szot -- an acclaimed opera singer here making his musical-theater debut -- sings gorgeously but delivers a hopelessly stiff performance.
Fortunately, at least two of the supporting players take up the slack, with Danny Burstein's conniving Luther Billis being a constant source of delight and Loretta Ables Sayre investing Bloody Mary with a galvanizing combination of humor and steeliness.
The physical aspects of the production are very effective, with the vast expanse of the Vivian Beaumont stage used to great effect. Michael Yeargan's sets are minimal but generally get the job done, and Donald Holder's gorgeous lighting well conveys the show's South Sea island setting.
Presented by the Lincoln Center Theater
Music: Richard Rodgers
Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
Book: Oscar Hammerstein II, Joshua Logan. Director: Bartlett Sher
Musical staging: Christopher Gattelli
Set designer: Michael Yeargan
Costume designer: Catherine Zuber
Lighting designer: Donald Holder
Sound designer: Scott Lehrer
Ensign Nellie Forbush: Kelli O'Hara
Emile de Becque: Paulo Szot
Lt. Joseph Cable: Matthew Morrison
Luther Billis: Danny Burstein
Bloody Mary: Loretta Ables Sayre
Cmdr. William Harbison: Sean Cullen
Stewpot: Victor Hawks
Jerome: Luka Kain
Liat: Li Jun Li
Ngana: Laurissa Romain
Capt. George Brackett
Professor: Noah Weisberg
Ensign Cora MacRae: Becca Ayers