It might be premature to call the touring production of South Pacific at the Aronoff Center the best you’re going to see this season, but it’s safe to say audiences won’t be disappointed. The 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic is a reminder of why the show exemplifies the golden age of Broadway musicals. It’s got the tunes and the talent.
The production, a Tony Award winner and a recent PBS live broadcast, doesn’t skimp on any element. It has an orchestra pit full of musicians, singers and actors who do justice to the show’s tuneful score, scenery that evokes the magic of the islands as well as the gloom of wartime, and direction and choreography that keep it engaging despite its nearly three-hour length.
As Navy nurse Nellie Forbush, Carmen Cusack (pictured) evokes the bubbly physicality of Mary Martin, who originated the role, bringing a comic touch to Forbush’s Arkansas twang and an expressive, jubilant singing voice.
Jason Howard, as the French plantation owner Emile de Becque, uses his operatic baritone with great results. When he sings “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine,” the temperature in the theater perceptibly rises. He’s occasionally a bit stiff, but his passion for Nellie makes him human and lovable.
Anderson Davis is a passionate and moody Lt. Joe Cable, and Jodi Kimura maintains a balance between comedy and pathos as the enterprising Bloody Mary. The ensemble of Seabees is constantly spirited, and the “nurses” (who never do anything medical) have the perfect look for women of the 1940s.
Supporting the action is a big orchestra with many Cincinnati-based musicians. Conductor Lawrence Goldberg provides excellent accompaniment for the singing and the moody underscoring, something missing from many contemporary musicals. For a reminder of what made such shows great popular entertainment in the 20th century, you need to see this South Pacific.
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