Queensland Musical Theatre kicked off their 2018 season with a return to the golden age of musical theatre, bringing to the stage the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, South Pacific. With its iconic score and sweeping love story, all set against the backdrop of an encroaching world war, it is considered by many to be their penultimate work.
Direction by Deian Ping was thoughtful and considered, if simple. Highlighting the story elements, and allowing plenty of scope for the featured characters and ensemble to interact. Using projections onto the back wall of the theatre limited the need for set and opened the space up to accommodate the large ensemble. However, the set changes that were done did slow the pace of the show down, even though they were done by cast members and not by crew.
It should be noted that there were quite a few occasions where cast could be seen standing in the wings waiting for changes. Personal favourites include man-dancing-with-chair, and the cast member leading the jogging line, who stood in the front archway and loudly jogged on the spot, waiting to come on.
A significant highlight of this production was the work done by the large, but dedicated chorus. The first Act in particular, is exceedingly long, but they kept a freshness and energy up every time they were in stage. A nod must be given to the Pacific Island Dance Troupe from St James College. They were only on for one scene, but elevated the energy and tension significantly.
Ping worked well with choreographer Ruth Gabriel, and the dance numbers all had high energy and a spontaneous feeling. In particular, the fun number ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out’a My Hair’, which built into the big spectacle, that fans of the show would have turned up for. Musical Direction by Gerry Crooks was a definite highlight of the show, with a well-balanced orchestra and some stunning full ensemble singing. A personal favourite was the men’s harmony work in ‘Nothin’ Like A Dame.’
Leading the company as Nellie Forbush, Louise Drysdale was a breath of fresh air every time she hit the stage. High energy, and bubbly, she gave Nellie a strong willed but compassionate air that pushed the show along nicely. Her work with the nursing friends, Vivien Wood as a brassy and vivacious Ensign Dinah Murphy, and Emily McCormack as the down to earth counterpoint Ensign Janet MacGregor, was delightful.
Drysdale’s dancing background was on wonderful display, and lent her Nellie a poise, grace, and command that many others lack. Vocally Drysdale was wonderful, delivering a gorgeous 1940’s twang that was era appropriate and warm, which was a wonderful counterpoint to Valdemar Jakobsen’s portrayal of Emile De Becque.
Jakobsen played a very straight, wooden version of Emile. He had vocal chops to spare, and more than handled the scores iconic numbers, especially ‘Some Enchanted Evening’. The relationship between Nellie and Emile is a big selling point of the show, and between Drysdale’s effervescence and Jakobsen’s dry Emile, the chemistry was a little laboured.
As Lt Joe Cable, Michael Lewis brought a brash, strong energy to the production, and his vocals were warm and rich. He gave a nice counterpoint to the other “military” men in the show, and his ill-fated relationship with Thien –Tam Nguyen’s Liat was certainly sweet, and heartfelt. Nguyen made the most of her short stage time, giving a graceful, beautiful performance.
As much as South Pacific is a classic romance of love and loss, it is also quite a funny show. James Rogers as Luther Billis, and Maria Newman as Bloody Mary, bring the comedic heart and soul of the show to the foreground. A significant appeal of this production is Rogers’ willingness to throw himself into the humour, in particularly in the performance of the crowd favourite ‘Honey Bun’. He then backed it up by bringing out the wonderful affection that Billis has for Nellie.
Similarly, Newman easily walked the line between the haggling, deeply corrupt, foul mouthed side of Mary, and her care and concern for her daughter Liat. The character work between Rogers and Newman made Billis and Mary some of the most engaging, and fully fleshed characters in the show.
The technical elements were fairly well in hand throughout the production, in particular the stunning moving projections in the backdrop. The balance in the sound work was overall quite good, with some small moments of interference interrupting some scenes.
In a production filled with wonderful small parts and such a talented, enthusiastic ensemble, it is difficult to narrow down moments worthy of special mention. However, two parts stood out head and shoulders above the rest. Firstly, Ros Booth as Henriette and her dance in the overture with the two children Tia Godbold, and Jai Godbold as Ngana and Jerome. The moment, although fleeting, was a lovely reflection of the innocence of the show.
The second honourable mention has to go to the character work done by David McLaughlin as the Professor, and Darcy Rhodes as Seaman Tom O’Brien. Their characterisations and mannerisms were spot on and added to the rich tapestry of the production. Going a long way to lift the work of the men’s chorus and their interactions, and gave the world of the show a grounded feeling.
South Pacific is a hallmark piece of golden age musical theatre. It is a defining piece of the historical landmark and a significant piece of our cultural landscape. Queensland Musical Theatre’s production was performed with sincerity and genuine warmth. It is only unfortunate that their season does not run longer, but with the hilarious pop sensation Legally Blonde slated for later this year, they’ll be back onstage before long.