Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, June, 2002
It is a great pity that Christianne Teasdale is so dead wrong as Nellie Forbush, otherwise this would be a really great production of South Pacific. But because Teasdale tries and misses in this pivotal role, it is simply a good one. I say this based on an independent poll taken of the three people in my theatre party, my 88-year-old father, who saw Mary Martin in the original Broadway production, my middle-aged self, who has seen an assortment of Nellies in my day, and my 13-year-old son, who had never seen South Pacific before. We each, independently, decided that Teasdale was not right as Nellie, and I think that says something.
It is not that Teasdale isn’t attractive and talented. She isn’t bad as Nellie, she just is wrong. There were a few times when I caught her tossing lines that were pivotal to plot and character aside like used Kleenex. In a musical, where spoken dialogue is sparse, every line counts. My father thought that she was too old for the role, but I didn’t share that opinion. I have a sneaking suspicion Mary Martin was about the same age when Dad saw her on Broadway. Age is immaterial to the ability to convey character.
The other weak link in this cast is Gail Nelson as Bloody Mary. Nelson made a huge splash at Barrington Stage several seasons ago portraying Billie Holliday, and I had high hopes for her in this role. The part itself is a rather offensive ethnic stereotype by today’s standards, which must be difficult for a person of color to play, but I had wanted Nelson to sing the heck out of Bali Ha’i and she didn’t. I actually preferred her jazz stylings on Happy Talk (a really dumb hap-hap-happy Hammerstein number if ever there was one) although I wondered if a Tonkanese woman in 1942 would have been so improvisational.
But the guys in this show are just great. Peter Samuel is a very French Emile de Beque with a powerful voice. Christopher Vettel is a lot of fun as the irreverent Luther Billis, ably aided and abetted by Adam Mastrelli as Stew Pot, Brian M. Golub as The Professor, and a chorus of horny Naval hunks. They all get cheerfully in south seas drag for Honey Bun at the start of Act II.
Ayal Miodvnik is solid as Lieutenant Joe Cable, and his love scenes with Elaine Marcos as Liat are touching, but, alas, Jim van Bergen’s sound design let’s us all down by garbling the radio message announcing Cable’s death. The tragic end of that love story is decidedly muted by this error.
Gordon Stanley looks like he’s having fun as Captain George Brackett. Brittney Ameson-White and Arielle Watlington were adorable as de Beque’s Polynesian children, and they sang “Dites-Moi” very sweetly. The two woman nurses chorus consisting of Teri Watts and Lucy Ruth Sorensen, boasted wonderful voices. I especially enjoyed the Andrews Sisters harmonic spin they and Teasdale put on I’m Gonna Wash That Man Righ Out-a My Hair, although it is sad that the modern day use of body mics has made the actual hair washing in that scene a thing of the past. I suppose you couldn’t re-write the number to be I’m Gonna Wash That Mic Right Out-a My Hair, could you?
You can count on Barrington Stage to do something out of the ordinary with a familiar favorite like South Pacific, and in this case the innovation comes from the creative team. I loved Tony Parise’s choreography of a Balinese dance introducing Liat, partnered by one of the gentlemen of the chorus whose identity was masked. Miguel Romero’s evocative scenic design utilizes vivid Polynesian colors and flowing fabrics with a handsomely painted rear scrim. You can almost hear the waves on the shore. Julianne Boyd’s inventive direction goes a long way to making up for some of the weak moments in this show.
South Pacific runs through July 13 at Barrington Stage Company (413-528-8888) performing at Mt. Everett Regional High School (413-229-8734), on Berkshire School Road between Rts. 7 & 41 in Sheffield. The show runs three hours with one intermission and is suitable for the whole family.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2002