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South Pacific – Grand Theatre, Leeds

Director: Bartlett Sher

Musical Director: Jae Alexander

Music: Richard Rodgers

Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II

Reviewer: Liza Kyle

[rating:4]

The beautiful Grand Theatre in Leeds tonight played host to the current run of South Pacific and an Enchanted Evening was promised. Set on a South Pacific island during World War II, it was clear from the anticipation of the audience that this show, first staged in 1949, is a well-loved piece of musical theatre which, judging by the gentle humming going on around me is held very fondly in the hearts of many.

The musical centres around Ensign Nellie Forbush (Samantha Womack), an American nurse stationed at a U.S. Naval base, she falls in love with expatriate French plantation owner Emile de Becque (Matthew Cammelle). Beneath the sometimes simple but beautiful scenery and gently swaying songs is the underlying exploration of racial prejudice, which comes in the form of the very likeable Nellie as she finds herself torn when faced with the realisation that Emile has two mixed race children. We also encounter a second romance with Lieutenant Joseph Cable (Daniel Koek) who, despite falling in love with a young Vietnamese woman named Liat (Elizabeth Chong), refuses to marry her.

Womack delivers a sublime performance with many standout moments throughout, among which are two of the more upbeat, fun numbers I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair and Honey Bun. She captivates the audience from the outset and ensures that Nellie never falls out of grace, despite her misguided intolerance.

Unfortunately, there is an initial lack of chemistry or spark between these four characters battling with their inner prejudices. Because there is no real sense of romance where there should be, the show is left slightly laboured in places without enough insight into why or how these people actually fell in love.

This shortcoming is however isolated and is really the only flaw to what is otherwise a smooth, well-staged production. Happily, it is further redeemed by a very strong supporting cast, namely Luther Billis (Alex Ferns) a hard nut, womanising sailor with a soft side who is madly in unrequited love with Nellie; and Bloody Mary (Jodi Kimura), a feisty middle-aged Vietnamese vendor of grass skirts and shrunken heads, who engages the sailors in sarcastic, flirtatious banter as she tries to sell them her wares.

This group of restless sailors are obviously in desperate need of female companionship and they reinforce this sentiment with a rousing and harmonious rendition of There is Nothin’ Like a Dame. It would appear that there is also nothing like a man in uniform, but the all too brief flash of a man out of uniform definitely raised a smile.

The show is a mixture of boisterous fun and poignant tragedy. We are given a glimpse into the troop’s life as they put on a Thanksgiving extravaganza to entertain themselves, but we are also reminded of the cost of combat as lives are lost and families torn apart. South Pacific may not always float everybody’s boat, but if you’re a fan of the show then this is one not to be missed – it’s sure to have you Enchanted throughout.

Runs until Saturday 7 July

 

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