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Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific" at Lincoln Center Theater's Vivian Beaumont
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Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific" at Lincoln Center Theater's Vivian Beaumont

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Lincoln Center Theater
At the Vivian Beaumont
(Vivian Beaumont Theater - South Pacific - Website)
Under the Direction of Andre Bishop and Bernard Gersten
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s
South Pacific

Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan
Adapted from Tales of the South Pacific
By James A. Michener

Kelli O’Hara, David Pittsinger
Matthew Morrison, Danny Burstein, Loretta Ables Sayre
Sean Cullen, Murphy Guyer, Genson Blimline, Luka Kain
Li Jun Li, Laurissa Romain, Noah Weisberg
An Ensemble of Actors/Singers/Dancers
As Officers in the Marines and Navy, Sailors, Seabees,
Shore Patrolmen, Nurses, Professor, Islanders, and Guests

Directed by Bartlett Sher
Musical Staging: Christopher Gattelli
Musical Direction: Ted Sperling

Sets: Michael Yeargan
Costumes: Catherine Zuber
Lighting: Donald Holder
Sound: Scott Lehrer
Orchestrations: Robert Russell Bennett
Dance & Incidental Music Arrangements: Trude Rittmann
Conductor: Fred Lassen
Casting: Telsey + Company
Production Stage Manager: Michael Brunner
General Press Agent: Philip Rinaldi
Musical Theater Assoc. Producer: Ira Weitzman
General Manager: Adam Siegel
Production Manager: Jeff Hamlin
Director of Development: Hattie K. Jutagir
Director of Marketing: Linda Mason Ross

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 17, 2008

The music plays on and on in my mind…”Some Enchanted Evening”, “Bloody Mary”, “Bali Ha’i”, “Younger than Springtime”, and my favorite, “This Nearly Was Mine”. My true litmus test of a great musical revival is having an imaginary, old-fashioned record player pop into my head and start playing a tune, again and again. However, my true test of an unforgettable and extraordinary musical is for that record player to play multiple tunes, reminiscent of multiple vocalists, in multiple moods. Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific passed the “extraordinary” test, and the music plays on. What voices! Especially David Pittsinger, who has filled in for Award-Winning Paulo Szot, and, with his operatically seasoned bass-baritone talent, Mr. Pittsinger rivets the audience with his romantic gaze, sizzling chemistry, and sensational singing.

This production of South Pacific is not just about show-stopping voices; it’s also about captivating acting, scenery that draws you into South Pacific Islands in World War II, historical recreations that bring fighter planes and larger than life maps and shorelines in proximity to the audience, sets and lighting and sound that compliment each other and shift swiftly, as the action and scenes shift from Emil de Becque’s garden terrace to a Navy base, to a military planning session, to an exotic dance. Themes of interracial romance, contrasting and conflicted emotions, and fleeting time to grasp what’s almost lost are but a few crosscurrents in this timeless tale of courageous love. Ensign Nellie Forbush (Kelli O’Hara) has the petite perkiness and youthful ardor that Mary Martin must have exemplified in the original 1949 – 1954 Broadway production and that Mitzi Gaynor exuded in the 1958 film. Ms. O’Hara’s first song, “A Cockeyed Optimist”, was clear, persuasive, and resilient. At first, I thought she would be swallowed by the largesse of the Vivian Beaumont stage, but, instead, she riveted the eye.

David Pittsinger, who has often sung in the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, and with opera companies and orchestras around the globe, seizes this performance opportunity with impassioned and glowing presence; every moment that he’s onstage is a gift to the audience. He radiates effusively with warmth and need, all the while speaking and singing in the deepest, vibrant tones, trained through operatic librettos. When he sang “This Nearly Was Mine”, more than a few women in the theater felt envy for Nellie. The storyline involves a Navy station, in World War II, on two South Pacific Islands, with Ensign Nellie Forbush, an American Navy nurse, falling immediately in love with the older, widowed Emil de Becque. De Becque owns a large property and cares for two Polynesian children, having sought refuge from France, where he had a youthful brush with the law. Then there are the sailors, who have no women to romance, with the only non-military woman being Bloody Mary (Loretta Ables Sayre), a rotund Asian peddler of grass skirts. She sings (and brings the house down!) about the great mountain, “Bali Ha’i”. Bloody Mary’s exotic, young daughter, Liat (Li Jun Li), falls in love with Lt. Joseph Cable (Matthew Morrison), an elite Princeton grad and Marine Officer, who’s afraid to marry out of his social strata (“You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”). Cable had spent one night with Liat, which he thought was a “gift” from Bloody Mary, but the seduction was more complicated than he could handle. Morrison’s voice was poignant.

Cable and de Becque help the Marines with a mission to thwart the Japanese, while two women (Liat and Nellie) wait with impassioned fervor. Nellie thought she could stop her beating heart (“I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair”), but her heart won the battle. Another strong character is Luther Billis (Danny Burstein), with over-the-top humor, especially in the Navy entertainment gigs (with Billis in a grass skirt and coconut bra, and Nellie in an oversized, man’s Navy outfit, “Honey Bun”). De Becque’s two children, Ngana (Laurissa Romain) and Jerome (Luka Kain), are two of the most confident child singer/actors, tiny artists to watch. The remaining cast, in acting, singing, dancing roles was versatile, vivacious, and totally realistic. When the nurses walked in line with 1940’s khaki shorts (thanks to Catherine Zuber’s costumes), or showered in the improvised beach stalls (thanks to Michael Yeargan’s sets), they seemed to be actually at ease, from a day’s work overseas. The sailors, too, in all their antics and adventures, danced, sang, and dramatized with stunning tone (thanks to Scott Lehrer’s sound design) and split-timing (thanks to Christopher Gattelli’s musical staging and Ted Sperling’s musical direction).

Speaking of timing, kudos to Fred Lassen, who conducted the orchestra beneath the moving stage. Before each Act, the orchestra played overtures, with pulsating pizzazz, and the audience could watch each musician from every vantage point. When the stage moved forward to cover the musicians, the sound design and music direction had been prepared to perfection. Donald Holder’s lighting set the mood for “Some Enchanted Evening”, as well as the sunlight on de Becque’s terrace (“Dites-Moi”). Bartlett Sher has directed the professionalism that arrives with a long, successful career on Broadway, at the Long Wharf, and at The Met and City Operas. You should not waste a moment to see South Pacific at Lincoln Center, especially while David Pittsinger has the role of Emile de Becque. This is a show that lingers in memory, scene by scene, song by song.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at