South Pacific * * *
at Alexandra Theatre
Review by Alison Jones
For all its paradise island bonhemie with its happy talk and dame-worshipping sailors, this musical deals with some emotionally provocative themes.
The Second World War has plucked young Americans from the insular bubble of their small towns and transplanted both them and their prejudices to the Polynesian isle.
The stage is set with a behind-the-screen vignette which shows a black nurse being ignored by a newspaper seller while Nellie Forbush stands by, oblivious to the discrimination.
Ensign Forbush is a tricky role, for while we are meant to find her cock-eyed optimism engaging, her reaction to the revelation that plantation owner Emile de Becque's late wife was Polynesian remains distasteful. And also rather pointless given that she claims to have no problem with his mixed raced children, just his dead wife.
Helena Blackman, a finalist in How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?, sings and dances well enough but rather overdoes Nellie's knuckleheadedness.
Dave Willetts, no stranger to French accents after Les Miserables and Phantom, rolls his Rs with conviction as the world-weary Emile, seizing his second chance at happiness. His rich voice easily doing songs like Some Enchanted Evening full justice.
Ian McLarnon, as the white bread marine Joe Cable, steams up the stage during the love scenes with Kanako Nakano, as his native lover, Liat. But it is Sheila Francisco who seizes the spotlight in her role as Bloody Mary, the wily wheeler-dealer trying to broker a better life for her child.
With so much material to get through the production moves swiftly but at the expense of emotional engagement, the dramatic moments lacking real potency.
In fact there are times when the most moving thing on stage is the scenery, as the island commander's office wobbles on and wobbles off.
The set designer has also come up with the most spectacularly ugly way to conceal scenery changes, with two curtain-high screens of corrugated iron and planks that should be smashed into driftwood at the first opportunity.
* Running time: Two hours, 50 mins. Until Saturday.