South Pacific

When you think of classic musical theatre, you instantly think of Rodgers and Hammerstein and one of their many shows.  South Pacific, first performed back in 1949 on Broadway still shines on the stage today thanks to the Chichester Festival Production currently touring the UK.

The cast lead by Julian Ovenden (Emile de Becque), Gina Beck (Ensign Nellie Forbush), Joanna Ampil (Bloody Mary) and Rob Houchen (Lieutenant Joseph Cable) embodies exceptional talent.  The vocal performances throughout the show certainly impress with a standout moment courtesy of Julian Ovenden and his rendition of ‘This Nearly Was Mine’.

At its core, the story is a story of love between Ensign Nellie Forbush (Gina Beck) and Emile de Becque (Julian Ovenden).  The chemistry on stage between the pair is totally believable and Beck shines in the more comical moments.  Ovenden commands the stage and with a voice to raise the roof, I feel the part is perfectly cast.

In the sidelines is another story of love, this time between Lieutenant Joseph Gable (Rob Houchen) and Liat (Sera Maehara), the daughter of Bloody Mary (Joanna Ampil).  Maehara plays the role of Liat with such innocence and her movement on the stage is spellbinding. Houchen first appears on stage wearing sunglasses and looking every inch the fresh-faced Lieutenant.  His voice is second to none and I really wanted to hear more.  Houchen handles some classic songs with perfection, including ‘Younger Than Springtime’ which is sung through with emotion and of course a fantastic vocal.

Bloody Mary played magnificently by Joanna Ampil bought a sense of fun to the show in Act 1, trying to sell her wares to the boys of the Navy.  Ampil is no stranger to big shows and her talent shines off the stage at multiple parts, especially during the haunting ‘Bali Ha’i’ which she delivers with poise and sophistication.   Her rendition of ‘Happy Talk’ in Act 2 had a more sombre spin to it, however once again Ampil displays her talent in acting through song.

The ensemble cast really fill the stage, with fantastic choreography by Ann Yee. The group numbers of ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair’ and ‘There is Nothin’ Like a Dame’ really do elevate the show and the sound is impressive.  I must make mention of Douggie McMeekin who plays the role of Luther Billis.  He stole each scene with exceptional comic timing and bought a sense of fun to the show.

The set, by Peter McKintosh, is very minimal during the many scene changes, however when various pieces of staging are wheeled in and out it should have been a slicker process, and at times was noisy which tended to overshadow the action on stage.  The front porch of Emile de Becque’s house is adorned with flowers and shows an opulence to his lifestyle.  We see the infamous shower booths used during ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Head’ with working showers and the stage for the revue performed by the Ensigns displaying the American flag.

Of course, none of these classic Rodgers and Hammerstein songs would be as impressive without hearing the superb orchestrations provided under the musical direction of Jon Laird.  The musicians made a beautiful sound which topped off an already fantastic show.

South Pacific is pure musical theatre heaven and will have you happy talking all the way home!

This show was reviewed on the 27th September 2022 at The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham where it runs until the 1st October 2022.  Tickets are available here:  https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/south-pacific/the-alexandra-theatre-birmingham/

Full tour details can be found here: https://southpacificshow.com/

Written for Box Office Radio

Photo credit: Johan Persson

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