South Pacific (Barbican Centre)

Originally published on my LiveJournal blog on 20 August 2011.

The production from the Lincoln Center Theater of ‘South Pacific’ which received such rave reviews in New York has landed in the UK to run for seven weeks at the Barbican Centre before it tours the country. The last full production of this Rodgers and Hammerstein show was in 2001 at the National Theatre, starring Lauren Kennedy as Nellie and Philip Quast as Emile – enjoyable though that show was, for me there was little visible chemistry between the leads in the central love story.

Samantha Womack "washing that man out of her hair".
Samantha Womack “washing that man out of her hair”.

Fast forward to now. In the transfer from US to UK some key roles have been recast, notably Samantha Womack as Nellie and Daniel Koek as Joe Cable, as well as Alex Ferns as Luther Billis. Coming over from the US are Paulo Szot as Emile (but note he is not in the whole run at the Barbican – Jason Howard plays the role from 29th August to 21st September), and Loretta Ables Sayre as Bloody Mary.

Szot is a superb Emile, with a wonderfully rangy bass voice – he makes the most of his two showpieces, rightfully receiving prolonged applause for ‘This Nearly Was Mine’. He is a very good actor, too, and gives what could be quite a dry role some humanity. Womack is far better than I expected – she has played Miss Adelaide in ‘Guys and Dolls’ but doesn’t really have a musicals pedigree. On this evidence she should/will have. Her joy in her ‘Wonderful Guy’ is infectious to watch and her struggle with prejudice and love is touching.

Although Cable is a thankless part in many ways, Koek has a pleasant voice and the right level of bitterness in ‘Carefully Taught’. Ferns makes the most of Billis’ twists and turns, and Sayre has comedy mixed with a beautiful voice which is shown well in ‘Bali Ha’i.’

I really like this production, which has feet tapping, and brings both smiles and a lump in the throat. In actual fact, it is superb, giving full throttle to those marvellous songs while still making matters of prejudice relevant today.

However a note to the Barbican – your air conditioning is too cold 🙂 That aside, a wonderful, no, an ‘enchanted’ evening.