June 24, 2002
'South Pacific' is no paradise
by Deborah Stone
Arts and Entertainment
Rodgers & Hammerstein's timeless classic, "South Pacific," is the last production in the Paramount Theatre's "Broadway in Seattle" series for the 2001-2002 season. Starring the great vocal talent Robert Goulet as Frenchman Emile de Becque and featuring a hit parade of memorable songs, this enduring and romantic classic would appear to have all the necessary ingredients of a winning production. Unfortunately, not even Goulet's velvety baritone, nor the show's lovely score, can save it from its uneven and superficial qualities.
Set against the backdrop of World War II on an island in the Pacific, the story revolves around a Navy nurse, Nellie Forbush (Amanda Watkins), who meets de Becque, an older, dignified Frenchman, who fled his homeland years ago, after killing a man. The two fall in love at first sight, but when Nellie learns that de Becque is a widower with Eurasian children by a Tonkanese woman, she abruptly ends the relationship.
On the same island, American Lt. Joseph Cable (Lewis Cleale) falls for a lovely native girl named Liat (Kisha Howard), but denies himself the fulfillment of a future with her for the same reasons that disturb Nellie. The show focuses on these two parallel love stories, which are threatened by the dangers of racial prejudice and the horrors of war.
The production disappoints because its plot develops at warp speed, allowing no time for character development. It's hard to really care about the fate of these characters because the audience barely gets to know them except on a very basic, surface level. Goulet, however, still has a beautiful set of pipes that hasn't tarnished a bit over the years. He gets to show them off, especially when singing the well-known, romantic number, "Some Enchanted Evening," and "This Nearly was Mine," a wistful waltz, which he delivers with powerful emotion. However, at 68 years old, Goulet's movements are limited and one can almost hear his bones creaking as he carefully, oh so carefully, dances with co-star Watkins.
Unfortunately, the pair lacks chemistry and it's a giant leap of faith to imagine that the two are passionate about one another.
Watkins is perky and full of energy as she bounces from one scene to the next; Goulet is slow and controlled, making only the slightest of movements to convey the barest amount of emotion.
The show shines in some of its large chorus numbers, particularly when the men do "There is Nothing Like a Dame" and the women perform "I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right Out a My Hair."
The talented Gretha Boston, as the wily Polynesian Bloody Mary, does a beautifully haunting rendition of "Bali Ha'I" and David Warshofsky, as out-spoken sailor Luther Billis, adds much spunk to the production. Cleale, as the American lieutenant, fails to bring much life to his character and his romantic involvement with Liat strains credibility.
Musically, the show is satisfying, but overall, it is disappointing and doesn't measure up to the caliber of other classic revival musicals seen this past year at the Paramount.
The theatre's upcoming 2002-2003 season is chock full of big productions, including "Seussical, the Musical," "The Producers," "Mama Mia," "Some Like it Hot," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Jesus Christ Superstar."
For additional information, access the theatre's web site at: www.theparamount.com