Tuesday, October 02, 2007

*South Pacific* review

*South Pacific* -- at Spokane Civic Theatre through Oct. 27

Naughty Bobo -- he promised a review "later this weekend" and didn't even finish it until 11 am Tuesday. He's gonna plead having to edit and re-edit the Visual Arts Tour coverage and a scrambled Screen section in this week's paper.
Anyway, here's some of it.
For further comments (on Jerry Sciarrio as Luther Billis, on Briane Green as Nellie Forbush, and on Peter Hardie's sets and lights), sorry, you'll have to wait for Thursday's *Inlander.*

“Racism is bad.” Not exactly the newsflash today that it was a half-century ago (even if we still haven’t fully learned the lesson). Rodgers and Hammerstein’s *South Pacific* seems appreciable today more for its pleasant melodies than its social criticism.
In the Civic’s current production (through Oct. 27), most of the leads and most of the songs are performed quite well, so they’re batting better than average. After director Yvonne A.K. Johnson treats us to a series of vintage World War II photos, Ken Burns-style, throughout the overture, it soon becomes evident that the stars of this show will be Michael J. Muzatko as the French plantation owner and Marianne McLaughlin as the Polynesian dealer in used goods.
It’s refreshing to hear Emile deBecque sung other than operatically. Muzatko takes “Some Enchanted Evening” slowly and elegantly, bringing it closer to genuine feeling than histrionic display. He kneels to hug his kids; he rages when he needs to in the military commander’s office; he’s dignified in his wooing of Nellie. Even if his accent sometimes wanders out of France into Germany, Muzatko still bestrides the stage in his ice cream suits. It’s a performance full of restraint and dignity, unlike other roles Muzatko has played. He’s acting, folks, and he makes deBecque into a hero in wartime.
McLaughlin wrestles a role that could descend into racist stereotype and pins it. Bloody Mary’s particular brand of hootchy-kootchy is meant to accumulate profit and swindle others, even her own daughter. But McLaughlin comes on with such infectious glee that we overlook Mary’s manipulativeness. “Bali Ha’i” is a show-stopper: With Bloody Mary always angling for her next buck, the interlude feels like a tribute to an ideal, a better world. “Bali Ha’i” plants that world firmly in Polynesia, not in the war-ravaged mess that the show’s white folks are mired in.

There are weaknesses, however. The introduction of Liat to Lieutenant Joe Cable is cringe-worthy, and not just because Bloody Mary is pimping out her own daughter for maximum cash. Cable and Liat are thrown together in a you-makee-whoopee-now plot convenience, and Jaylan Renz and Chloe Maier do nothing to rise above contrivance. Renz’s voice thins and cracks on the crescendo of “Younger Than Springtime” (“heaven and earth are you to me”), though he recovers with righteous anger in the brief, pointedly anti-racist song “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” which made Hammerstein’s lyrics so controversial in 1949.
During “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair,” the women’s chorus managed to take most of that number’s energy and let it circle right down the drain: conventional movements and self-conscious laughter don’t help Nellie paint a picture of independence.


  1. Well, Bobo, leave it to you to criticize South Pacific's lack of innovation and not make one single mention of the hula dancing.

    Love it or hate it, you gotta admit it was innovative.

  2. Bravo cast of South Pacific !!!!