Head south for an enchanted evening: PATRICK MARMION reviews South Pacific

Head south for an enchanted evening: PATRICK MARMION reviews South Pacific
Head south for an enchanted evening: PATRICK MARMION reviews South Pacific

South Pacific (Festival Theatre, Chichester)

Verdict: A tropical treat

Rating: rating_showbiz_4.gif

Chichester Festival Theatre is back, with a big summer musical that lives up to the swooning lyrics of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s terrific old showboater, and provides sustenance for those of us hungering for live entertainment.

Some enchanted evening? You betcha.

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What a joy it is to see a full company, led by Gina Beck and Julian Ovenden, swirling through their paces in Daniel Evans’s ravishing and well-oiled production, with gorgeous Technicolor set design by Peter McKintosh. I still think of the 1949 musical about American marines in World War II, hanging around, waiting to fight the Japanese, in terms of the sun-drenched picture postcard 1958 movie starring Rossano Brazzi and Mitzi Gaynor.

Chichester Festival Theatre is back, with a big summer musical that lives up to the swooning lyrics of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein¿s terrific old showboater, and provides sustenance for those of us hungering for live entertainment

Chichester Festival Theatre is back, with a big summer musical that lives up to the swooning lyrics of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s terrific old showboater, and provides sustenance for those of us hungering for live entertainment

But McKintosh’s design more than lives up to that fantasy, with a sandy turntable of a stage backed with palmy vistas and warmly lit, roll-on, roll-off terraces of the island paradise, and sounds of the ocean lapping offstage.

The story about U.S. nurse Nellie Forbush at first rejecting French plantation owner Emile after discovering that his first wife was an Asian native, has everyone — on stage and off — worried about the plot’s direction of travel.

Beck’s solution is to play up the fact that Nellie is a middle American girl who’s ‘corny as Kansas in August’. Her cherry-pie voice makes her seem innocent rather than mean on her journey to repentance.

At one point, the actress (who is noticeably pregnant… she’ll be sharing the role with Alex Young from August, before Young takes over completely) asks Ovenden’s Emile about the chance of their having children. The orotund singer brims with Gallic earnestness and somehow manages to keep a straight face.

Happily, he also reveals a saucy side when, fuelled by champagne, he launches into a reprise of Nellie’s big number with the showgirls, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair.

Mindful of the sociological importance of their work, those showgirls are not the usual giggling can-can dolls. So the pleasure of overt raunchiness goes instead to the topless

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