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Theatre Wed Nov 25 2009

Review: South Pacific @ Rosemont Theatre

Last night's opening of South Pacific at the Rosemont Theatre was a tribute to American nostalgia; the costuming and set design were as striking as Carmen Cusak and David Pittsinger's portrayals of Ensign Nellie Forbush and Emile de Becque. If you like vintage clothes and choreographed musicals, this one's for you.

The last time I saw South Pacific onstage was at my sister's 1985 high school production, where I sat at rapt attention as the story of an army nurse from Little Rock and a mysterious Frenchman who met on an exotic island during Word War II unfolded before me, and has stayed with me ever since. The 1949 musical deals with race relations in a remarkably frank manner, as detailed in the song "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught," with lyrics like:

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

When the musical first toured, the lyrics to this song caused quite a stir. In 1949 the US armed forces were still segregated, and while the issue of race relations in the production focused on white American anxiety regarding Pacific Islanders, parallels to life on the American mainland were easy to draw. I have to say, along with the word "colored", it felt strange to hear to word "Jap" bandied about onstage so easily.

If you're looking for a good voice, you can't get much better than Pittsinger, whose résumé includes turns in operas like Tosca, La Bohème, The Magic Flute, and Don Giovanni, and who can sing the polish off a brass doorknob. Cusak's turn as Nellie Forbush is equally impressive, as much for her nonstop energy as for her voice; her previous credits include a two year stint playing Elphaba in Wicked.

Keala Settle stole the scene every time she appeared onstage as Bloody Mary. Settle portrayed Tracy Turnblad in the 2003 national tour of Hairspray, and wins for cutest cast bio in the program:

KIA ORA! My name is Keala. And I am personally thanking YOU for supporting the arts by being at this performance. I COULD bore you with random details regarding what I did to get here, but all that matters is right now YOU'RE here, I'M here; LET'S CELEBRATE!! (For you, Mom)

The only detail in the entire production that sat strangely with me wasn't even an issue of casting or production values, it was the unfortunate disparity in height and weight between Anderson Davis, who portrayed Lt. Joseph Cable, and Sumie Maeda, who played the role of Lt. Cable's love interest, Liat. Both actors did a fine job portraying their respective roles, but Maeda's tiny frame looked downright childlike next to Davis. When Lt. Cable is first introduced to Liat by Bloody Mary, his reaction: "you're just a child," only added to the situation, and sent me to a place in my mind that I wasn't prepared to go when I took my seat.

Somewhere between my sister's 1985 high school production and yesterday's performance at the Rosemont Theatre I forgot about the inherent desperation in the storyline of Lt. Cable and Liat; Bloody Mary is looking for a husband for her daughter Liat so that she won't have to marry one of the plantation owners on the island, initially the issue of race throws a monkey wrench into their relationship, and ultimately Lt. Cable dies during a military operation. So what's going to happen to Liat now? I kept thinking, even after the actors had taken their bows and the crowd spilled out onto the rainy parking lot. If she were a real woman she'd be in her eighties by now, and I'd love to hear her side of the story.

South Pacific is playing at the Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road for a limited one-week engagement, November 24-29. Tickets are $39.50-$79.50 and can be purchased at the Rosemont Theatre Box Office and at Ticketmaster. For information and tickets call 877-447-7849, or visit Rosemont Theatre or South Pacific On Tour.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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