South Pacific review: vigorous and intelligent revival of a great musical | Theatre | Entertainment

Essentially a wartime love story between a US Navy nurse and a French expatriate on a remote island, it encompasses cross-generational romance, mixed marriage, racism and patriotic sacrifice. There is even a drag act. It’s a lot of bang for your bucks.

Daniel Evans’ revival keeps faith with the period and allows its timeless elements to resonate without leaning on them too heavily. 

So the impact is shattering when Gina Beck’s lovestruck nurse Nellie Forbush rejects a proposal from widower Emile de Becque (Julian Ovenden) on discovering that he has two children from his marriage to a Polynesian woman. 

The song that follows, You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught, elaborates on the idea that prejudice is not natural but nurtured.

And when the new arrival on the island, Lt Joseph Cable (Rob Houchen), falls in love with local girl Liat (Sera Maehara), he encounters problems he cannot resolve.

Joseph joins Emile on a dangerous mission to a neighbouring island to report on the Japanese troop movements.

Meanwhile, the bored Seabees waiting to mobilise engage in antics such as troop shows and attempting to outwit local trader Bloody Mary (Joanna Ampil), led by Seabee Luther Billis (Keir Charles) who is one part Arthur Daley, one part Sergeant Bilko.

The first half is loaded with non-stop hits from A Cockeyed Optimist to Some Enchanted Evening while the dialogue-heavy second half delivers the drama.

Choreographer Ann Yee’s ensemble dance numbers are lively but variable.

Honey Bun is superb, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair is all over the place. But the solos and duets strike home.

Some Enchanted Evening, Bali Ha’i and Younger Than Springtime are well executed and there can’t have been a dry eye in the house during Emile’s This Nearly Was Mine.

The desperation underneath Bloody Mary’s Happy Talk is a corrective to the crowd-pleasing standard There Is Nothing Like A Dame.

A vigorous and intelligent revival of a great musical.

South Pacific is at Chichester Festival Theatre until September 5



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