George Dvorsky (as Emile deBecque) and Haley Swindal (as
by John Vecchiolla
by Eugene Paul
How in the world to do this? I’ve seen the
original Broadway production, sung and played the songs ever since, saw it on
film, on TV, went to every major revival including the latest, been kissed by
the greatest Bloody Mary how could I visit the WBT production without instant
after instant memory rising? Oh, stop stalling and do it. It is not going to
be easy. South Pacific is a huge favorite of mine; further, I’ve become
a fan of the Westchester Broadway Theatre. But if ever there was a
disenchanted evening, this was it.
To quote my theatre companion, who, praise
be!, had never seen the show before, “If the very first word of the very first
song is wrong, it’s a very bad sign”. She was talking about “Dites-Moi”, the
charming song sung by the children, one of my favorites. In fact, just about
every song in South Pacific is a favorite, all compelling reasons to see
the show again and again. But woe is me, what have they done?
Joanne Javien (as Bloody Mary) center, with sailor ensemble
perform "Bloody Mary"
Well, first, the good news. Joanne Javien,
as Bloody Mary, is bloody marvelous, the best thing in the show, and you know
how I feel about Bloody Mary. Her “Bali Ha’i” is a dream. Furthermore,
everything works, the sound, the lighting, the staging.
Zach Trimmer (as Lt. Joseph Cable) and Alison T. Chi (as Liat)
with Joanne Javien (as Bloody Mary) in the back.
Next good news: Alison T. Chi, as Liat, Bloody Mary’s fragile blossom of a daughter, given to the star- crossed Lt. Joe Cable (Zach Trimmer) is the loveliest, most enchanting Liat I have ever seen, truly magical. Their delicate love story, broken on the wrack of racism and prejudice, still resonates.
l to r: Stephanie Cowan, Maria Logan, Haley Swindal
(Nellie Forbush), Ashley Lanyon, Laura Yen Solito, Sarah Ellis
Perform "I'm Gonna wash that Man Right Outa My Hair".
But Bloody Mary, Liat and Joe Cable aren’t
the central characters of the show and therein lies the rub. Nurse Ensign
Nellie Forbush (Haley Swindal) is, and planter Emile de Becque (George Dvorsky)
is, the effervescent homespun American nurse serving her country and the
reclusive French expatriate escaping from a dangerous, disapproving, bigoted
society, who fall in love but are torn apart by deeply inculcated American
George Dvorsky (as Emile
deBecque) and Haley Swindal (as Nellie Forbush) with the children : Kyle
Arzaga(as Jerome) and Isabella D'Erasmo (as Ngana)
De Becque has two half Asian children and Nellie is a heartland American bigot born and bred who cannot get over her prejudices, A nice girl otherwise. These alluring characters and their wonderful songs are the very core of the show.
However, as portrayed by wooden George Dvorsky
and squeaky Haley Swindal, they are the bad news. There’s more, but this is
the big null. And director Charles Repole doesn’t know what to do with them. He
has not persuaded his company to take possession, make the show their own; they
are just presenting a famous show with famous songs. Dvorsky, stolid at best,
seems to be directed to stand over there, sing, walk over there, raise arm,
sing, face audience, not the woman he’s in love with, sing. It’s robotic,
staged robotically, not at all like a play, Dvorsky obedient, remote. Swindal,
burdened with the wrong hair, wrong clothes, wrong makeup and a Minnie Mouse
speaking voice the sound engineering seems to reject, is shockingly
uncharismatic. And the chemistry between them? One could expound reams on how
unsexy they are together or separate. Apparently director Repole gave up. And
they have such wonderful songs to sing! “ A Cockeyed Optimist”, “Some Enchanted
Evening”, “A Wonderful Guy”.
We can’t wait for the rollicking Sea Bees
and the comedy relief of Luther Billis (Bill E. Dietrich) The men all singing
“Bloody Mary” sound good. “”There is Nothing Like a Dame” is really okay. But
– where’s Billis’ off center charm? Or even on center? Anything? Dietrich is
massively unfunny. And again, an apparently paralyzed director cannot or does
not help. The nurses are perky, pretty when not in uniform, absurd when
wearing uniform costumes and wigs that swamp them.
“Younger than Springtime”, that loveliest
of love songs, is so awkwardly staged and belted one quails. Zach Trimmer as
Cable is far more successful in his bitter song about being taught to hate
people: “You’ve Got to be Taught” and George Dvorsky succeeds in making “This
Nearly Was Mine” his own.
Which brings us to the war story scenes and
plot we’ve been avoiding. They are deeply incomprehensible and directed that
way. But then, any human being, even an officer, could hardly be expected to be
otherwise in the steamy hot south Pacific wearing a tie, let alone a full dress
Still, there’s a show underneath all that,
you know it, you even feel it, it’s not just memories. The enchanted songs,
they’ll live through it all. And a lovely audience gave the hardworking
company a vigorous curtain call.
South Pacific. At the Westchester
Broadway Theatre. Dinner and show: $80. Luncheon and show: $54. Discounts,
children, students, seniors. 914-592-222,or BroadwayTheatre.com. Luxury boxes:
914-592-8730, many extras incl, private powder room, reserved parking.
A beloved American classic whose songs are
as fresh as ever.