Wed Apr 9 2008
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Bartlett Sher’s revival of South Pacific is faultlessly decorous. The staging is always elegant; the cast—which includes Kelli O’Hara and Matthew Morrison, veterans of Sher’s last prestige musical at Lincoln Center, The Light in the Piazza—acts with restraint and sings beautifully; the 30-piece orchestra, nestled beneath the Vivian Beaumont Theater’s sliding stage, swells with pride through Robert Russell Bennett’s sumptuous original orchestrations of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s well-loved songs. Even when its horny World War II soldiers are singing about getting laid, 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.” Still, the audience swoons for Emile—and for the show—thanks in large measure to a first-class performance by Paulo Szot. When this handsome Brazilian baritone smooths his melting voice over the deservedly classic “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine,” he cradles the Vivian Beaumont tenderly in his arms, and lifts it into a kiss.