The enjoyment of the mostly winning production of South Pacific, playing at the Ivoryton Playhouse through July 26th, is hearing the magnificent Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers score live. Every song is a gem and sung by an appealing cast with the vocal talent to wonderfully deliver each number.
Librettists Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan based the musical on a number of stories from James Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning book Tales of the South Pacific. The novel revolves around the author’s experiences in the South Pacific theater during World War II and incorporate two disparate love stories. The first focuses on the romance between a young American nurse, Nelly Forbush, stationed on one of the islands occupied by American soldiers and a middle-aged French plantation owner, Emile de Becque. The second liaison is between a young soldier, Lt. Joseph Cable and an island girl, Liat. The stories intertwine throughout the drama and each highlights the deep-rooted racial prejudice among the Americans. Hammerstein and Logan’s book skillfully conveys the boredom of war and the drama and struggles the armed forces faced during wartime.
The score by Rodgers and Hammerstein is one of their best. Just about every song is a classic. Some of immortal tunes include “Some Enchanted Evening,” “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame,” “Bali Ha’I,” “A Wonderful Guy,” and “Younger Than Springtime.” They run the gamut from heartfelt ballads to comedic numbers to songs with a social consciousness such as the emotional laden “You’ve Got to Carefully Taught.”
The cast is highly satisfying. They are led by David Pittsinger, as Emile de Becque. Pittsinger, who logged in time in the role in the acclaimed 2008 Lincoln Center production, has the regal air of a French gentleman. His operatic, bass-baritone, is a powerful instrument that captivates the audience. He can be suave and boyish in his pursuit of Ms. Forbush. Adrianne Hick, as Nelly Forbush, is perky and a tangle of competing emotions. She also possesses a beautiful voice and more then holds her own with Mr. Pittsinger. Patricia Schuman’s Bloody Mary initially comes across as the island fool, but she is more plotting and purposeful as she tries to match the young Lt. Cable with her daughter Liat. She also beautifully delivers one of the musical’s signature numbers, “Bali Ha’i.” William Selby’s Luther Billis is a first-rate conniver and the main source for comic relief in the production. Peter Carrier as Lt. Joseph Cable is manly, a dedicated soldier and painfully confused in his conflicted love for Liat.
The direction and choreography by David Edwards is perfunctory at best. Scenes unfold, characters move around the small stage and a few innocuous dance numbers are incorporated into the production.
South Pacific, enjoying a sold out run at the Ivoryton Playhouse through July 26th. Call ahead for possible ticket cancellations.