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South Pacific at Chichester Festival Theatre | Review

These days one wouldn’t have the likes of Nellie Forbush (Gina Beck) bluntly telling, albeit apologetically, Emile de Bacque (Julian Ovenden) that any possible signs of a blossoming relationship have zero chance of coming to fruition on account of Emile being a widower to someone who wasn’t white. Except that one might, but perhaps the explicitly stated reasons for not wanting to go any deeper with someone else would be rather more circumspect. Lt Joseph Cable (Rob Houchen) also decides against going any further with local girl Liat (Sara Maehara), though he might have had a lucky escape of sorts, with Liat’s mother, known as Bloody Mary (Joanna Ampil) wanting to marry her daughter off for what she perceives to be maximum financial gain.

Julian Ovenden as Emile, Gina Beck as Nellie in Chichester Festival Theatre’s SOUTH PACIFIC - Photo Johan Persson.
Julian Ovenden as Emile, Gina Beck as Nellie in Chichester Festival Theatre’s SOUTH PACIFIC – Photo Johan Persson.

South Pacific, set in World War Two, in the, um, South Pacific islands, must have been somewhat progressive when it first hit Broadway in 1949, with a stance on racism that remains pertinent to this day. Cable sings ‘You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught’, in which he makes it clear that the sort of “hate and fear” of “people whose skin is a different shade” is not something that anybody is born with. But elsewhere, there’s a lot of fun to be had, particularly in the larger ensemble numbers. I shouldn’t really call them ensemble numbers, as there is, technically, no ensemble: each and every one of the thirty-three characters on stage is given a name.

This is all very much Chichester Festival Theatre doing Rodgers and Hammerstein – it’s dazzling stuff, sung with verve and conviction, with choreography drilled to (just about) perfection. Keir Charles’ Luther Billis has great stage presence, leading the other ‘Seabees’ (enlisted members of the United States Naval Construction Battalions – yes, I did look that up) in an enthusiastic rendering of ‘There is Nothin’ Like A Dame’. It’s a long first act, with twenty musical numbers – the second act has eight – and I’m not sure everything in the show was entirely suitable for the young children in the audience: the show has young children in it, but they aren’t on stage when military men are attempting to satisfy their urges.

It’s also one of those shows with memorable and popular tunes – it’s hardly by accident that despite never having seen a stage production of South Pacific before, I recognised the likes of ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Men Right Outta My Hair’ and ‘Younger Than Springtime’. Beck and Ovenden, in the lead roles, are sublime in ‘Some Enchanted Evening’. The vocal ranges are impressive. Hints of British understatement occasionally permeate through, however: there is some water on stage during a shower scene, but nobody is as drenched as they would be had they actually had a shower.

Musicals move at a faster pace than they did in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s heyday (and I’m not just talking about Hamilton). But this production is slick, and suitably timed to military precision, with scene changes sometimes already underway before a musical number (and therefore a scene) is over. The stage revolve has plenty of action, and with a song-and-dance score that has aged remarkably well, this delayed revival is well worth the wait. A bold and beautiful production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

1943. On an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, US troops are kicking their heels amid the cacao groves while restlessly waiting for the war to reach them.

Nellie Forbush, a navy nurse from Arkansas, finds herself falling for the French plantation owner, Emile de Becque – a man with a mysterious past. The scheming sailor Luther Billis runs a makeshift laundry to earn a quick buck, but he’s no match for the quick-witted Polynesian Bloody Mary who’s intent on exploiting these foreigners.

When young Princeton graduate Lieutenant Joe Cable is flown in on a dangerous reconnaissance mission, love and fear become entwined as the island’s battle for hearts and minds begins.

Gina Beck – Ensign Nellie Forbush
Julian Ovenden – Emile de Becque
Joanna Ampil – Bloody Mary
Keir Charles – Seabee Luther Billis
Rob Houchen – Lt. Joseph Cable
Alex Young – Ensign Nellie Forbush (some performances from 5 August, full-time from 23 August)
Iroy Abesamis – Marcel, Bloody Mary’s Assistant / Seabee Juanito P Edora
Lindsay Atherton – Ensign Margaret Brooke / Onstage Swing
Carl Au – Stewpot
Rosanna Bates – Lt. J.G. Bessie May Sue Ellie Yaeger
David Birrell – Captain George William Brackett
Leslie Garcia Bowman – Seabee John Paul Jones
Taylor Bradshaw – Seabee Buckley Johnson
Bobbie Chambers – Ensign Janet MacGregor
Charlotte Coggin – Ensign Mary-Grace Mahoney / Onstage Swing
Danny Collins – Professor
Oliver Edward – Seabee Raymond Thompson Jr. / Onstage Swing
Sergio Giacomelli – Seabee Marco Messina / Onstage Swing
Shailan Gohil – Henry / Seabee Reginald Leone
Adrian Grove – Commander William Harbison
Zack Guest – Yeoman Hebert Quale
Cameron Bernard Jones – Sergeant Leon Francis Johnson / Seabee Victor Price
Amanda Lindgren – Ensign Marie Louise Brown
Matthew Maddison – Sergeant Thomas Hassinger / Seabee Walter Quayle
Sera Maehara – Liat
Melissa Nettleford – Ensign Cora MacRae
Rachel Jayne Picar – Lead Nurse / Radio Operator
Kate Playdon – Ensign Dinah Murphy
Pierce Rogan – Seabee Eugene O’Brien / Lt. Buzz Adams
Clancy Ryan – Ensign Lillian Keir / Dance Captain
Charlie Waddell -Seabee Jim Rose / Onstage Swing
James Wilkinson-Jones – Seabee Billy Belmont
Archer Brandon – Jerome
Ellie Chung – Ngana
Lana Lakha – Ngana
Kami Lieu – Ngana
David Ngara-O’Dwyer – Jerome
Alexander Quinlan – Jerome

Creative Team
Daniel Evans – Director
Peter McKintosh – Set & Costume Designer
Ann Yee – Choreographer & Movement Director
Nigel Lilley – Musical Supervisor
Cat Beveridge – Musical Director
David Cullen – New Orchestration
Robert Russell Bennett – Original Broadway Orchestration
Howard Harrison – Lighting Designer
Paul Groothuis – Sound Designer
Gillian Tan – Video Designer
Theo Jamieson – Additional Arrangements and Happy Talk Orchestration
Charlotte Sutton – Casting Director
Verity Naughton – Additional Children’s Casting

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan
Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener

5 July – 5 September


1 thought on “South Pacific at Chichester Festival Theatre | Review”

  1. Gina Beck as Nellie is pregnant.

    I’m sure not getting fully drenched is very wise for her

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