Tuesday, November 29

South Pacific – Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

For a show 73 years old, “South Pacific” more than holds its own in the modern world. Its central premise, which is fleetingly mentioned in James A. Michener’s novel “Tales of the South Pacific” but given full-flight in the musical adaptation by those giants of Broadway, Rodgers and Hammerstein, is one of racism – a subject as pertinent today as in 1949. The cross-race romance is explored deftly and sensitively, and prejudices are challenged. But this is not a preaching show. This is slap-bang Broadway classic which ran for over five years on its initial run. So, expect some solid, stonking numbers – which we get in abundance.

Daniel Evans, newly appointed co-director of the RSC, helmed this ship into safe harbour when he was in charge in Chichester and he has re-shaped, re-imagined, re-invented the old warhorse into something fantastic, engaging and endearing for the 21st century. It really is a substantially robust piece of writing with a gold-star score and vibrant sense of theatrical storytelling. What could go wrong? Well, in this case – nothing. We open on a bare stage save for walls of corrugated iron which evolve and open to allow trucks and chunky set to arrive, rotate and revolve on Peter McKintosh’s thoroughly realised set. This coupled with Howard Harrison’s perfect lighting and a sound design by Paul Groothius which throughout seemed natural, unforced and wholly unamplified prove starting points which set the stage (literally and figuratively) for a perfect production.

Gina Beck (centre, as Nellie) & members of the company in Chichester Festival Theatre’s SOUTH PACIFIC © Johan Persson

Julian Ovenden and Gina Beck grasp hold of both lead characters and make them their own with a convincing and poignant relationship underscored with some beautifully controlled and restrained vocals. Rob Houchen provided a glorious rendition of “Younger Than Springtime” and Joanna Ampil, as Bloody Mary is comic and sinister in equal measure. Dougie McMeekin, as Luther Billis, leads a hearty fleet of hunky sailors who almost steal the show with “There Is Nothing Like A Dame” which is swiftly reclaimed by the female chorus singing, “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair.”

Every step of Ann Yee’s choreography was deployed with buoyant gusto and simple joy. It was compelling and endearing and entertaining with each segment, be it dramatic, comic or musical, given equal and balanced portions of stage time. It also resists modern directorial trends of underpinning everything with musical stings and tricks to hold our attention. This holds our attention and makes us want to see, know and hear more throughout.

A true icon of Broadway and titan of musical theatre which is not to be missed!

Playing until 1st October, https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/south-pacific/the-alexandra-theatre-birmingham/

Reviewer: Peter Kinnock

Reviewed: 27thSeptember 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★