Tuesday, April 8, 2008

South Pacific


Music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Hammerstein & Joshua Logan. Dir. Bartlett Sher. Lincoln Center Theater.

The long-overdue Broadway revival of this 1949 classic thoroughly enchanted all but a few stubborn holdouts with its lavish, intent design, the serious-minded direction of Bartlett Sher, its star turns by Kelli O'Hara and Paulo Szot, and the huge, lush orchestra. Most critics were almost surprised by the relevance and power of the original show, though some quibblers either found it dated and/or dissented from the general praise for the leads and the production's restrained approach.

The New York Times A+
(Ben Brantley) This “South Pacific” recreates the unabashed, unquestioning romance that American theatergoers had with the American book musical in the mid-20th century, before the genre got all self-conscious about itself. There’s not an ounce of we-know-better-now irony in Mr. Sher’s staging. Yet the show feels too vital to be a museum piece, too sensually fluid to be square...It’s as if a vintage photograph had been restored not with fuzzy, hand-colored prettiness but with you-are-there clarity...Mr. Sher and Christopher Gattelli, who did the musical staging, have reinvigorated the concept of the organic musical, in which song feels as natural as breathing...I know we’re not supposed to expect perfection in this imperfect world, but I’m darned if I can find one serious flaw in this production.

Variety A+
(David Rooney) From the seductive swell of a full orchestra playing the glorious five-minute overture through the poignant final tableau of love and reconciliation, this is ravishing theater...The keynote to Sher's approach is restraint. Nothing is pushed too hard in this naturalistic presentation, stripped of Broadway bravado, whether it's dramatic scenes, comedy or even the seemingly effortless vocals...All that quiet restraint serves to make the stealth-like, cumulative emotional power more overwhelming.

New York Post A+
(Clive Barnes) Bartlett Sher's masterly reinvention of Rodgers & Hammer stein's "South Pacific" opened at the Vivian Beaumont last night with enough wattage to keep Lincoln Center alight for years...The manner in which music and the original James Michener stories unfurl throughout in a mix of comedy, romance and a touch of tragedy is theatrical magic of the most beguiling kind...Sher has been helped here by Christopher Gatelli's boisterous but unobtrusive choreography, Michael Yeargan's beautiful settings...and Catherine Zuber's carefully accurate costumes...There's not a single weakness.

The Daily News A+
(Joe Dziemianowicz) What makes this impeccably acted and designed production so extraordinary is Bartlett Sher's meticulous and dramatic direction. The physical production is created on a grand scale...Against that Cinemascopic grandeur, performances are on a human scale. The show is filled with fantastic and familiar songs that are presented here like musical conversation, making them sound fresh and exciting. Characters are played with such intimacy you practically hear hearts flutter as people fall in love...As the Polynesian peddler Bloody Mary, Hawaiian actress Loretta Ables Sayre is the find of the season, completely convincing and hilarious.

New Jersey Star-Ledger A+
(Michael Sommers) Some enchanted experience, "South Pacific" returns to Broadway in as perfect a production as anyone is ever likely to see...Every second a masterpiece of exceptional writing, thoughtful showmanship and sterling performances.

Bloomberg News A+
(John Simon) Pays homage to the original production in all the right ways. It should easily play for at least 1,925 performances -- the length of the original Broadway run...Pretty Kelli O'Hara is deliciously girlish, with prance in her movements and glints in her glances...The Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot is surely the best Emile ever.

New York Sun A
(Eric Grode) A crisp, sumptuous, unabashedly emotional revival that finds an almost perfect balance between severity and opulence...Mr. Sher may provide plenty to look at and listen to, but his highest achievement is to make "South Pacific," just one year shy of its 50th birthday, feel younger than springtime — and every bit as welcome.

Newsday A
(Linda Winer) Director Bartlett Sher has masterminded a big, luscious, witty production with the emotional intimacy of a chamber musical...He locates the timely darkness in the 1949 Pulitzer Prize-winning war story about deep love and deep bigotry, courage and almost unbearable loss. Yet, he trusts the Rodgers and Hammerstein score and Joshua Logan's book with a touching sense of old-time wonderment.

The New Yorker A
(John Lahr) A majestic spectacle. Conjured by Michael Yeargan’s superb sets and Donald Holder’s evocative lighting, the romantic and rollicking nineteen-forties world comes to life. But there is nothing retro about the show’s debate. Now, as then, the nation is stuck on issues of race, war, and, as the musical puts it, a “thing called hope"...O’Hara is too classy and too knowing to fit the idiosyncratic comic contours of the role. This doesn’t impede her or the musical from getting over, but it lowers the temperature of the flamboyant end result...“People have a need for melody, just as they need food or personal contact,” Rodgers said. “South Pacific” ’s revival proves his point; it’s a banquet.

USA Today A
(Elysa Gardner) I doubt there has ever been a nobler or sexier Emile than Szot's. In addition to having the superior vocal power and presence necessary for Some Enchanted Evening and the heartrending This Nearly Was Mine, Szot brings the perfect balance of virility and decency to the role. He also manages a thrilling chemistry with O'Hara...Nellie provides another showcase for the luster of O'Hara's lower-to-middle register and the focused intensity and discretion of her singing, which in a better world would be required listening for all American Idol contestants (and for a few Broadway belters).

Associated Press A
(Michael Kuchwara) What makes this Lincoln Center Theater revival of the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II classic enormously satisfying is the extraordinary care given to the score of what is the most hit-filled show in the R&H canon...Director Bartlett Sher has done a masterful job in balancing story and song...And this "South Pacific" manages to soar most majestically when it sings.

Talkin' Broadway A-
(Matthew Murray) The most engulfing and enrapturing experience of this year - and quite a few others in recent memory...As directed with superb reverence by Bartlett Sher and performed by an astonishing company, this production speaks and sings to your heart in a way few shows today do...O'Hara...comes across as a graduate student in acting projecting careful introspection...Everyone else is spectacular.

Village Voice B+
(Michael Feingold) Lincoln Center Theater's revival of South Pacific, directed by Bartlett Sher, plumps for the work's seriousness, approaching it with quiet realism—almost cautiously, as if its romance might prove too fragile for our cynical time. But South Pacific has solidly built-in defenses against breakage, including the self-mocking lyrics in which Nellie ridicules her own romanticism. An additional pinch of that showbiz self-mockery wouldn't have hurt Sher's production, which at times seems too sedate...The physical production is, expectably, both lush and astute. And once the 31-piece orchestra lights into Robert Russell Bennett's orchestration, you won't mind much else.

Theatermania B+
(David Finkle) While Bartlett Sher's current revival of South Pacific...is not a perfect realization of the Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein-Joshua Logan musical, it's near enough that anyone caviling about its drawbacks for more than 10 seconds is just a spoil-sport...Sher...must shoulder responsibility for what many will consider a misconstrued interpretation of Nellie, who's far more restrained in O'Hara's performance than someone vociferously declaring herself "a cockeyed optimist" would likely be. Sher also might have helped Szot seem less awkward during the book scenes than he does; however, he spectacularly sings "This Nearly Was Mine" and "Some Enchanted Evening"...The musical -- coming during a presidential campaign where race is a heated issue -- now registers as indisputably relevant to the headlines.

The Hollywood Reporter B+
(Frank Scheck) 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...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...The physical aspects of the production are very effective.

Time Out NY B
(Adam Feldman) Everything about the production lovingly whispers “masterpiece theater” in your ear. But is South Pacific a masterpiece? The score is a treasure, certainly, but elements of this 1949 show’s depiction of military life now seem corny, as does the pedantic antiracism song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” And although the strings beneath their dialogue signify romance from the start, there is something creepy about the rushed central relationship between American nurse Nellie Forbush (the lovely O’Hara, totally capable as always but a touch on the chilly side) and the wealthy, older French plantation owner Emile de Becque, who is looking for “someone young and smiling.”

New York B-
(Jeremy McCarter) Not detecting much chemistry between O’Hara and Szot is, I recognize, a minority view: If you missed the early notices, South Pacific led many of my colleagues to tear their shirts off and dance around. There’s a lot to admire in Bartlett Sher’s revival, if not as much as the hosannas might lead you to believe...But period flavor cuts both ways. Despite the best efforts of Danny Burstein, who got dependable laughs in The Drowsy Chaperone, the antics of fast-talking operator Luther Billis aren’t very funny. And despite O’Hara’s best efforts, the show’s vaunted wrestling match with bigotry doesn’t resonate either.

The Journal News C
(Jacques Le Sourd) For those who harbor a nostalgia for the grand old style of Broadway, it certainly won't be a wholly wasted visit. It just seems a shame that this classic show, so lumberingly directed, just never takes off.

The New York Times A+ 14; Variety A+ 14; New York Post A+ 14; The Daily News A+ 14; New Jersey Star-Ledger A+ 14; Bloomberg News A+ 14; New York Sun A 13; Newsday A 13; The New Yorker A 13; USA Today A 13; Associated Press A 13; Talkin' Broadway A- 12; Village Voice B+ 11; Theatermania B+ 11; The Hollywood Reporter B+ 11; Time Out NY B 10; New York B- 9; The Journal News C 7; TOTAL: 220 / 18 = 12.22 (A-)

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