One of the most exciting nights in the theatre last year was our trip to Lincoln Center, NY to see Bartlett Sher's wondrous production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's SOUTH PACIFIC, marking it's first Broadway revival in 54 years! Luckily we had a chance to re-visit this production last week in the not-as-far Barbican Centre (and this time with no snowy streets outside!)Well swipe me if we hadn't booked for the opening night! Seeing a red carpet and autograph collectors should have tipped me off but it was only when we saw Rolf Harris, Barbara Windsor and Miranda Hart in the auditorium that the penny dropped! But we were there to see the show not the audience. There was an oo-er moment when Bartlett Sher stepped out on the stage and informed us that although Samantha Womack (née Janus) had broken her toe a day or so earlier she would be going on thanks to Dr. Theatre.
The production has been somewhat curtailed by being squeezed into the smaller stage and although the music still sounds glorious played live, the orchestra sounded slightly less encompassing than at Lincoln Center. However the production still thrills, delights and makes your jaw drop that it's score can contain so many classics that not only work as stand-alone classics but more importantly still manage to move the story forward.One of the production's biggest surprises was how well Samantha Womack coped with such a major musical role. The actress playing Nellie has songs that range from the broad comedy of HONEY BUN and I'M GONNA WASH THAT MAN RIGHT OUTTA MY HAIR to the big solos like A COCK-EYED OPTIMIST and I'M IN LOVE WITH A WONDERFUL GUY - oh and she has to go from comedy to drama quite abruptly. Although her voice isn't as strong as our NY Nellie - Laura Osnes - she certainly had a grip on the character and any reservations I had brought with me were soon forgotten.
We also saw finally Paulo Szot who played Emile originally at Lincoln Center and although he stopped the show dead with a stunning THIS NEARLY WAS MINE, I must admit I preferred our NY Emile, David Pittsinger. I am not sure whether it was down to him possibly being over-familiar with the part having played it off and on for such a long time or Pittsinger's more mature ruggedness being a better fit for the character but I was a bit underwhelmed by him. I must also admit that, akin to the recently-seen PYGMALION, a little more chemistry between Womack and Szot wouldn't have gone amiss. Another Walford escapee Alex Fearns plays the spivy Seebee Luther Billis and was quite effective in the role, making a real impression as a character and not just someone who moves the comedy along. The production has a major find in Daniel Koek as Lt. Joe Cable, nicely playing the character's shift from loner to lover and socking over YOUNGER THAN SPRINGTIME and YOU'VE GOT TO BE CAREFULLY TAUGHT with power and conviction.
We were lucky too that Loretta Ables Sayre has travelled with the show to reprise her wonderful performance as Bloody Mary. She is a magnetic performer and perfectly captures not only the character's humour but also her hard-edged survivalist nature - her version of HAPPY TALK turns the song not into just a cute throwaway number but a song sung with a growing desperation and underlying threat.There was good support from Nigel Williams too as the Captain Brackett and the ensemble work is consistently good.
If you want a great night out with a genuine musical triumph get along to the Barbican before October 1st - but also keep in mind the show will be touring after this date.
You'll laugh, you'll cry... I did.