Sometimes a little television gem comes your way when you least expect it. Such was the case in getting to see South Pacific last night on PBS, broadcast live from the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center here in New York. With the show ending its two and a half year run this Sunday, it seemed to be a perfect time to let home audiences in on this amazing revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1949 classic.
One of the wonderful things about this revival is that it is the first in New York since the original run on Broadway 61 years ago, so unlike many other shows that have had multiple reincarnations, this seems particularly fresh and yet surprisingly timely. With its depiction of life in a war-torn world and disturbing elements of racial intolerance, South Pacific was obviously ahead of its time in 1949 and a good reminder to us all that some things still need changing today.
Anyone who has seen the film South Pacific on television over the years, starring Mitzi Gaynor and Rosanno Brazzi in the lead roles, will remember the story of love and loss on a small island in the middle of World War II. What is pleasantly surprising here in the stage production is that Kelli O'Hara as American nurse Nellie Forbush and Tony Award winner Paulo Szot as wealthy plantation owner Emile DeBecque impress with their performances and seem much more well suited for their roles than their cinematic counterparts.
All the classic elements of a great Broadway musical are here, and the set design (by Tony Award-winning designer Michael Yeargan) is so fluid with a backing screen changing colors and images to match the moods and settings of each scene, and a retractable stage reveals a full 30-piece orchestra. While nothing can compare to being in the theater itself, the television viewing experience is a fine one. The fact that this was a live performance also enhanced the excitement of watching this production as it unfolded, and during the intermission we were even treated to Alan Alda doing interviews, most notably with the daughters of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
All the great songs sounds better than ever; even "There Is Nothin' Like a Dame," with all its connotations of anti-feminism, comes off well and fits perfectly into the show as it always has. My pulse fluttered during "Some Enchanted Evening," and it made me understand the power and allure of this musical, reminding us that true love can hit someone at any time in a crowded room, even during the midst of war in a far away place.