Marriott’s ‘South Pacific’ taps intimacy and transcendence
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org April 11, 2013 3:24PM
Elizabeth Lanza stars as Nellie Forbush and Stephen Buntrock portrays Emile de Becque in “South Pacific” at Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre. | Peter Coombs
When: Through June 2
Where: Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire
Run time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission
Updated: May 14, 2013 6:06AM
Sometimes it is good to be reminded of just how transcendent the familiar can be. A case in point: Director David H. Bell’s sublime revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, “South Pacific,” now at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.
Bell’s ability to make a story unspool with the most natural fluidity and deftly punctuated wit is a given, and here he has even handed over his usual choreographic duties to Matt Raftery, very much the skilled protege. But this expertly cast production is particularly impressive for the way it brings a deep intimacy to the musical’s epic tale of love and war, prejudice and acceptance, and the quests of both the fugitive and the seeker.
The individual performances here are superb. And the big production numbers are irresistible. But best of all Bell and his cast make you listen afresh to the show’s exceptionally bold and ambitious book — the work of Hammerstein and Joshua Logan, drawn from the stories of James A. Michener. The actors truly capture the sense of what happens when, far from home, people try to cope with internal and external chaos.
Elizabeth Lanza, who invariably brings a sense of total naturalness and emotional heat to her work, moves impressively into the grand spotlight here as Ensign Nellie Forbush, the “hick” from segregated Little Rock, Ark., who discovers more about herself and the world than she ever expected while serving as a Navy nurse during World War II. An outstanding actress, she is real rather than cute, and wholly compelling. And there is a palpable chemistry between her and her easily sophisticated Emile de Becque (Stephen R. Buntrock, whose similarly natural portrayal extends to his sonorous singing).
But there are star turns throughout here, right down to each distinctively limned Seabees and plucky staff nurses.
Stef Tovar may just be the best Luther Billis ever, bringing a comic restlessness to this adventure-seeking, mischief-making, happily horny sailor who clearly has his own big crush on Nellie. (The two team up expertly in “Honey Bun.”) Bethany Thomas is a magnificent Bloody Mary, alternately ruthless and funny, and is in full command in “Bali Ha’i” and “Happy Talk.”
Ben Jacoby lives up to Bloody Mary’s assessment of the young, Princeton-educated Lt. Joseph Cable as “a sexy man,” with the mix of his lustrous voice (“Younger Than Springtime,” “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”), callow skepticism and fervent engagement with the lovely Liat (Emily Morales, who brings a winning eagerness to her encounter with him).
Raftery sees to it that the iconic numbers are full of zest — from the laughter-inducing “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame,” to “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” (complete with washtub and shower jerry-rigged to a bicycle), to a jitterbugging sequence. And Thomas M. Ryan’s richly environmental set features giant palm trees and military camouflage material that almost reaches into the audience.
Last but not least, with music direction by Ryan T. Nelson, and an orchestra led by Patti Garwood, the production gives full voice to a score whose timelessness is beyond question.