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‘South Pacific’ at the Fox

2010 April 9

Bloody Mary and the Seabees; Photo: Peter Coombs

It was one of those good cries, the kind you have when everything is just so beautiful, so wonderful, you can’t begin to express it. Your body shakes and you need to blow your nose, but you are jolted up on your feet and have to keep clapping, because you have seen one of those rare near perfect performances that move you to the core of your being.

I almost didn’t even go see “South Pacific.” I saw the professional touring company about 40 years ago and saw the movie so many times by the time I was 13, I cannot even bear to watch it when it comes on TV. Been there. Done that.

Oh, but this show at the Fox is different. It is grand: the singing, the acting, the dancing, the energy, the men, the women, and that lieutenant’s gorgeous bare chest that made me want to run up on stage, knock his love interest aside, and say, “I’ll finish this scene for you.”

And the scenery. I normally could not care less about scenery. Just give me great actors and a good script, and that’s all I need. But this scenery. This is different. It is sublime: beautiful blue seascapes with light blue skies, mountains, sand hills, and gray and black nights. The sets change seamlessly in moments. Actors carry pieces with them and transform a set from a beach to an expansive Air Force office within seconds.

The costumes? They too are perfect, creative and time appropriate. And then there’s that one aqua dress that is so simple and elegant. I want that dress.

“South Pacific” is a beautiful tale of men and women from opposite sides of the ocean who fall in love on a South Pacific island during World War II. Nellie (Carmen Cusack), a Navy nurse from “the sticks” in Little Rock, Ark., falls in love with widower Emile de Becque (Rod Gilfry), a wealthy, debonair older Frenchman. But when she realizes the two children at his home belong to him rather than to his servant, she is disgraced that she would inherit his dark-skinned children from his deceased first wife, a dark-skinned Polynesian, and breaks off the relationship. Similarly, Lieutenant Joseph Cable (Anderson Davis) falls for Polynesian beauty Liat (Sumie Maeda), yet shies away from marrying her because people back in his hometown of Philadelphia would not approve of a native dark-skinned woman.

This Lincoln Center Theater touring production has been updated since “South Pacific” originally played on Broadway in 1949, where it won 10 Tony Awards. The dialogue and action are a little more risqué, and the song “My Girl Back Home,” first heard in the 1958 movie, has been added. The show is directed by Bartlett Sher, who directed the 2008 Broadway revival, which won eight Tonys.

All those family trips from Atlanta to Florida and back, with the “South Pacific” 8-track blaring “Bloody Mary” and “Happy Talk,” and I thought I had had enough of “South Pacific.” It’s been three days since I saw this latest production. I cannot get it out of my mind and cannot stop singing the songs.  I don’t want to.

“South Pacific” plays at the Fox Theatre through Sunday, April 11.

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