South Pacific, a tale of cross-cultural love, is as moving and relevant today in Musical Theatre West’s production as it was when it was first performed in 1949.
Set on a tropical isle that seems more like a summer camp than a military base in the midst of World War II, South Pacific revolves about two pairs of lovers: one ill-fated, the other destined for Camelot. Lt. Joseph Cable (Patrick Cummings) is a Princeton grad with a mean set of abs– thank goodness he takes off his shirt near the end of Act One. He falls for the delicate flower of a girl Liat (Cailan Rose). Theirs is the steamier tryst and so, in keeping with art and life, the one most likely to end badly. Their starlit, shimmering love shack is nothing short of otherworldly.
The other affair is tamer but has potential staying power. Emile (Christopher Carl), the dashing French widower, pursues Ensign Nellie Forbush (Alessa Neeck), though they have nothing in common. They did, however, spy each other from across a crowded room. They’ve got that going for them, as well as the ever-romantic “Some Enchanted Evening.”
Lt. Cable is tormented by the ostracization and high-brow racism that he portends await Liat and him should they marry and settle in the U.S. In contrast to imagined prejudice back home, Nellie dishes up a full serving of undiluted racism in the here and now when she discovers that Emile had two children with his Tongan wife.
It’s difficult to watch South Pacific without thinking of the racial tension that has gripped our nation in the last year. How wise was Oscar Hammerstein when he fashioned the lyrics for “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,” poignantly sung by Cummings: “You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late/Before you are six or seven or eight/To hate all the people your relatives hate/You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
Hats off too to: Carl’s deep, resonate voice; the scene in which Carl and Forbush look into each other’s eyes while swirling their cognac; cross-dressing sailor Luther Billis (Spencer Rowe) and Nellie at the Thanksgiving pageant; and the 28 musicians in the orchestra pit– the most MTW has had in a decade. Jodi Kimura is perfect as Blood Mary, the epitome of a small-time war profiteer, who wants to get into Lt. Cable’s pants until her daughter actually does. Her switch from crude seductress to meddling mom is masterful.
If you’ve never seen South Pacific, this is the production to see. If you’ve seen it many times before, do yourself a favor and see it again.
South Pacific continues at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center through Sunday, March 1. Performances are generally Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. There will be a Thursday performance on Feb. 26 at 8pm, two Saturday matinees at 2pm on Feb. 21 and 28, and one Sunday evening performance at 7pm on Feb. 22. Tickets start at $20. Tickets may be purchased online at musical.org or by calling (562) 856-1999 ext. 4. The Carpenter Performing Arts Center is located at 6200 E. Atherton St.