Press Review: South Pacific at The Alexandra Theatre

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ “A visually stunning production”

Directed by Daniel Evans, with Music and Lyrics by Rodgers & Hammerstein and Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan, South Pacific is based on James A. Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-Winning 1947 book Tales of the South Pacific and was an immediate hit following its Broadway premiere in 1949. With a now iconic score including I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair, Bali Ha’i, There Is Nothing Like a Dame, Some Enchanted Evening and Happy Talk, receiving multiple awards, spawning many successful revivals, tours and a 1958 movie

While traditionally the musical opens with Dites-Moi, sung by two half-Polynesian children Ngana and Jerome, instead we see Liat (Sera Maehara), a Tonkinese woman who dances alone, only to be surrounded by American troops. It’s a haunting and unexpected beginning and beautifully presented – the juxtaposition of the serenity of the solo dance followed by the chaos and commotion of the arrival of the military immediately sets the tone for the rest of the show. 

U.S. Navy Nurse Nellie Forbush (Gina Beck) and French plantation owner Emile de Becque (Julian Ovenden) have fallen in love after a very brief romance. Unbeknownst to Nellie, Emile has two children from his previous marriage to his now-deceased Polynesian wife. American Seebee Luther Billis (Douggie McMeekin) yearn to visit the nearby island of Bali Ha’i – off-limits to everyone except officers – to witness a Boar’s Tooth Ceremony. He haggles over grass skirts with sassy Polynesian Bloody Mary (Joanna Ampil), and his team lament at the lack of available women on the island. U.S. Marine Lieutenant Cable arrives to take part in a secret spy mission. While on leave he and Billis obtain a boat and visit Bali Ha’i, where he falls in love with Bloody Mary’s daughter, the beautiful Liat…

With a candid exploration of racial prejudice throughout, there are certain scenes that make for uncomfortable viewing – Nellie’s condemnation of Emile’s mixed-race children, Cable’s rejection of marriage to Liat for fear of his own family’s racist views, the clear disdain of Bloody Mary by Captain George Bracket. These themes are certainly as relevant as they were over 70 years ago, but in a modern-day society appear more shocking in the open expression of the characters individual prejudices. However, despite the serious undertones of the show there is a clever balance with plenty of comic moments, fun and energetic whole ensemble performances that fill the stage, and – of course – a score that is so well-known it remains a regular part of modern-day culture. 

And this score is delivered to perfection by a supremely talented cast. Gorgeous, operatic vocals from the solo lament of You’ve Got to Be Taught to the supremely masculine delivery of There is Nothing Like a Dame and fantastic choreography by Ann Yee make for delightful viewing. It’s a visually stunning production, seemingly uncomplicated but incredibly effective with towering corrugated iron walls and well-designed lighting that give a very contemporary feel to a musical that is over seven decades old. 

A wonderful show and a must-see. South Pacific is on stage at The Alexandra Theatre from Tuesday 27th September to Saturday 31st September. Purchase your tickets here.

Photo credits: Johan Persson