A South Pacific worth crossing the ditch for
South Pacific by Rogers and Hammerstein
Lincoln Centre Theater Production
Regent Theatre, Melbourne
Until November 25
New Zealander Teddy Tahu Rhodes is making a big impact in Melbourne with his magnificent singing as Emile in Opera Australia’s production of South Pacific.
He has garnered glowing reviews with critics like John Shand in The Sydney Morning Herald, enthusing that ''Tahu Rhodes' voice is so monumental as to punch you back in your seat''.
Rhodes certainly towers above most of the cast physically but his voice seems to swamp everyone else with its power and emotional energy. Just as well the rest of the cast are all suburb singers and actors.
This South Pacific shows just how close some musicals are to contemporary opera. The blurring of the genres has been happening over several years, partly as a result of operas such as John Adam’s Nixon in China and the works of Gilbert and Sullivan being included in the general opera canon.
South Pacific has all the elements of traditional opera – thwarted love, personal secrets and political intrigue all set against the sweep of history.
And as one of the most loved musicals it also has some splendid music, great choruses and songs which have memorable lines and tunes.
The musical is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Tales of the South Pacific by James A Michener and many of its songs have become well known in their own right: Some Enchanted Evening, I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair, Happy Talk, Bali Ha'i, Younger than Springtime and I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy.
It is set on a South Pacific island during World War II, where a Nellie, a young nurse from Arkansas, has becomes romantically involved with Emile, a French planter who has something of a dark past.
The sailors at the naval base are growing restless and bored without combat to keep them active or women to entertain them and they voice their predicament in There is Nothin' Like a Dame.
Enterprising naval rating Luther Billis hatches a plan to travel to Bali Ha'i, which is seen as a paradise reserved for officers. Meanwhile, a US marine, Lieutenant Joe Cable, arrives on the island on a dangerous mission crucial to ending the war.
With its emphasis on the historical, the political and social aspects the musical combines sweetly entertaining along with being a powerful commentary on politics, racism and war. It includes the incisive song You've got to be Taught to Hate, which is sung expressively by Daniel Koek (Joe Cable), highlighting the deep-seated racism of America which is in many ways still there.
Singing opposite Rhodes is the petite Lisa McCune as Nellie. Her sweet voice is a great counterpoint to Rhodes’s heroic sound but she manages to express a deeper range of emotions with a subtle and tender sound.
Kate Cebrano’s Bloody Mary is brilliant, giving the often one-dimensional character more guts, intelligence and sassiness. Her Happy Talk is a sensitive rendition, tinged with the sadness of a corrupt world.
As the endlessly plotting and inventive sailor Luther Billis, Eddie Perfect is perfect, filling the stage with his boisterous voice and impressive presence.
He ably leads a chorus of sailors filled with testosterone and macho energy with just a little a touch of gentlemanly behaviour.
This is a production which flows effortlessly, with an easy combination of dialogue, singing and dancing which is truly uplifting as well as entertaining.
John Daly-Peoples travelled to Melbourne courtesy Victoria Tourism, Opera Australia and Sofitel.