South Pacific, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Opera Australia and John Frost, Princess Theatre, Until Sept 29.
Tropical delights await audiences of this chocolate-box South Pacific. The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic sits at the high water-mark of the post-war American musical, glancing gravely back to the Pacific theatre of WWII, staring ahead at a seemingly limitless horizon of American cultural pre-eminence.
Its lush romantic score surges with hummable tunes. The show has always repaid vocal variety, calling for Broadway sass in comic numbers, and operatic power and control for its immortal love songs. This production nails them all, thanks to astutely cast leads and in particular a surprisingly strong and passionate performance from Lisa McCune.
She’s a triple-threat, McCune, though her voice always seemed more suited to The Sound of Music than Cabaret, and I did wonder if she’d have the pipes for Nellie Forbush. The war nurse from Arkinsas needs vocal strength and purity for ‘A Wonderful Guy’ and the romantic duets, but she also has to belt out brassy ditties like ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair’ and ‘Honey Bun’.
McCune takes them all in stride, bringing a pixie-like quality to all the gadding about and ramping up the passion. Let’s just say the sultry chemistry between McCune and Teddy Tahu Rhodes is either very good acting, or it isn’t acting.
Either way, McCune’s effervescent charms and Rhodes’ masculine presence set fire to the stage. Perhaps Rhodes’ acting is more limited and less expressive than it could be, but he compensates in song. You haven’t heard ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ or ‘This Nearly Was Mine’, not really, until you’ve heard Teddy wrapping his rich, resonant baritone around them.
Daniel Koek also shines in the doomed romantic supporting role, his wistful tenor a fresh breeze after the echoing sea-cave of Rhodes’s voice.
The comic roles are ably filled. Kate Ceberano embraces a gently amusing ethnic stereotype, her jazz voice a voluptuous blend of curves and edges in ‘Bali Ha’i’ and ‘Happy Talk’. Eddy Perfect’s gravelly shenanigans set the tone for ‘There Is Nothing Like A Dame’, and it isn’t a musical unless Perfect gets freaky (he does have a lovely bunch of coconuts).
Spectacle-seekers won’t be disappointed. Bartlett Sher’s direction is effortlessly dramatic and enchanting to the eye. The set runs to warplanes and pink sunsets. Crowd scenes churn with colour and co-ordinated movement. You can expect tap-routines, acrobatics, and well, the odd sailor who looks like he’s never touched a dame in his life, but this is musical theatre after all.
South Pacific is a skilled, attractive, and breathlessly romantic entertainment. Musical theatre fans won’t want to miss it.