Roger's and Hammerstein's South Pacific has been a musical landmark for decades, with an engaging story and a number of songs that became standards overnight for theater goers. Last June, Carnegie Hall presented a one night only performance of the show with a dream cast headed by contemporary country artist, movie and sitcom star Reba McEntire, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Alec Baldwin, Jason Danieley, and Lillias White. Directing here is Walter Bobbie, with music direction by Paul Gemignani conducting the Orchestra of St. Luke's. "South Pacific" was among Rodgers and Hammerstein's most successful shows, taking home nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 1950. Although its first Broadway revival will not occur until the 2007-08 season, "South Pacific" has never truly gone away thanks to thousands of productions on a professional and amateur scale through the years, as well as two movie versions of the show. This particular performance premiered on April 26, 2006 on PBS and here is preserved for repeated viewings on DVD.
The story here is very much one born of the period in which the musical came to life. On a South Pacific island during World War II a U.S. Navy nurse, Ensign Nellie Forbush (Reba McEntire), falls in love with an older French plantation owner, Emile de Becque (played by Broadway leading man Brian Stokes Mitchell). In the meantime restless sailors of the Navy lament the absence of both women and combat, until Lt. Joe Cable arrives on the island to take part in a mission that might turn the tide of the war against the Japanese. As only officers can sign out boats, Billis uses this opportunity to go to the mysterious island of Bali Ha'i, and convinces Cable to accompany him. On Bali Ha'i, Bloody Mary, the native souvenir dealer, introduces him to her daughter, Liat, and the two fall in love. The two couples prosper, and marriage proposals are made; however, Nellie is shocked to discover that Emile has mixed-race children from an earlier union, and Cable refuses to marry Liat because of her race. Dejected and with nothing to lose, Emile and Cable agree to go on their dangerous mission, successfully sending reports on enemy action. 'Operation Alligator' gets underway, and the previously idle sailors, including the reluctant Luther Billis (Alec Baldwin), are sent into battle. Sadly, Cable is killed on the mission; Emile narrowly escapes a similar fate to return home to a less racist Nellie and his children.
While these days the subject of interracial marriage and child-rearing is pretty much a non-issue, in the era this play was introduced it raised more than a few eyebrows. In this case its handled tastefully, by a savvy cast more inclined to entertain and simply draw the viewer in to enjoy the show, particularly the wonderful music it possesses.
While the incredible Rodgers and Hammerstein musical score will always be the foremost reason to attend any showing of this theatrical tour-de-force, this performance in particular is somewhat upstaged by having one Ms. Reba McEntire in the lead role made famous by Mary Martin back in 1949; in many ways McEntire winds up claiming it as her own.
This is not Reba's first appearance on Broadway- she replaced Bernadette Peters in "Annie Get Your Gun" a few years back to positive reviews, and does not disappoint here. Charismatic, fiery, and a joy to watch on stage, who isn't curious to see what she's able to do with a musical staple such as "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair" ? While there will be some cynics out there who wince at the thought of Reba bringing her own exuberant style to the part, surprisingly she seems to make it her own. Baldwin and the rest of the cast are graciously fine as well.
For those who ahve not seen the performance it should be pointed out that there is not much in the way of a lavish 'production' here, more of a reading given by the stars backed by a very solid orchestra, all doing a fair amount of justice to the material throughout.
Listed here are the acts and musical numbers of the show-
2. Dites-Moi / Oh, and what's that flower over there?
3. A Cock-Eyed Optimist
4. So when you joined the Navy...
6. One waits so long for what is good
7. Some Enchanted Evening
8. Dites-Moi (Reprise)
9. Bloody Mary
10. Say, is that a boar's tooth bracelet on your wrist?
11. There Is Nothin' Like A Dame
12. Ah, hello... you make trouble for me?
13. Bali Ha'i
14. Bali Ha'i (Reprise)
15. So tell us, Nellie, what did old Ironbelly want?
16. I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair
17. Hello, is that a new American song?
18. Some Enchanted Evening (Reprise)
19. Will you come to my party Friday?
20. A Wonderful Guy
21. What should I do, Captain? / Bali H'ai (Reprise)
22. You wait, Lootellan...
23. Younger Than Springtime & Bali H'ai (Reprise)
24. A Wonderful Guy (Reprise)
25. This Is How It Feels & A Cock-Eyed Optimist (Reprise)
26. Finale Act 1 - Some Enchanted Evening (Reprise)
28. Happy Talk
29. It is my great pleasure to bring you our skipper...
30. Honey Bun
31. You've Got To Be Carefully Taught
32. This Nearly Was Mine
33. Well, de Beque, I take off pretty soon for Marie Louise...
34. Some Enchanted Evening (Reprise)
35. Alright, Let's Start Those Trucks... / Honey Bun (Reprise)
36. Finale Act 2 - Dites-Moi (Reprise)
Aspect ratio for the disc is 1.78:1 widescreen. The picture here is clean and sharp with a good amount of detail, and colors look lush and true. A very good looking disc.
Available audio choices here are Dolby Digital Surround and 2.0 Stereo. Both are clean and easy to understand; the 5.1 track carries a bit more depth but for the most part either does a pretty good job with the material.
While by no means do I consider myself a theater critic, I was certainly entertained by this disc; it is rather refreshing to see a modern day take on a timeless musical, and the well known cast apply themselves admirably here. Recommended.