Review: “South Pacific” at the Ahmanson Theatre

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This production of "South Pacific" won the 2008 Tony for Best Revival. Baaaaali Haaaa'iiii!

Actress Sumie Maeda in the arms of Anderson Davis. She is perhaps the luckiest actress ever.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been to the Ahmanson Theatre, and seeing “South Pacific” there this weekend after having missed the entire last season was definitely the best reintroduction to one of my favorite theatre venues.

I’ve never read Michener’s novel nor seen the musical, nor the film adaptation, so I came in totally unspoiled. I have heard though just about every song in this musical at one time or other, though I didn’t necessarily realize they all came from “South Pacific.” (What a pleasant surprise it was for me to hear some of these classic songs suddenly be sung on stage). The story centers more or less around two characters and their racial prejudices during WWII. Nellie Forbush is a nurse from Arkansas who falls in love with posh French plantation owner Emile. Unfortunately she can’t get past the fact that he has fathered two children by a Polynesian woman, now deceased (though by comparison she skims over the fact that he’s a murderer; go figure). Much like her, Lieutenant Joe Cable meets a beautiful young Polynesian girl named Liat and falls deeply in love. But he is unable to reconcile continuing to see her and living in the real world, where such a relationship would be looked down upon. These two couples’ fates intertwine when Emile and Cable go on a dangerous mission together that could potentially end the war with Japan. Cable dies, but Emile lives on and returns home to find Nellie, who has overcome her prejudices and taken care of Emile’s children in his absence. Though one story ends in tragedy, another ends with a hope-filled reunion.

My apologies to Mr. Davis for the gratuitous repetition of his shirtless pics. No objectification meant. (Well, maybe just a bit).

I was just so blown away by show’s end. Such a memorable experience. Sad, funny, spectacular, with some of the most gorgeous musical numbers ever thought up by Rodgers and Hammerstein. And such great acting. Carmen Cusack as Nellie was an utter delight. She transported me back to the ’40s. Actually, more correctly, I took it as fact that she was someone transported from the ’40s. She is that believable, so genuine in the role. I didn’t for one second doubt that she was this dainty li’l gal from Little Rock in the 1940s. Her “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” number is perhaps Cusack’s standout moment in the show. And big kudos to Anderson Davis, who was just right in the role of Joe Cable. That flight jacket, that deep, classic voice. He captures Cable’s masculine reserve and conflicted heartache so convincingly.

This production of “South Pacific” plays in L.A. through mid-July, and then will continue its tour throughout the country. Definitely do not miss out on this production if you have not already seen it!

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