Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wonderful Guys

Director Bartlett Sher's revival of South Pacific is in Raleigh this week, and Dave and Tim "kidnapped" me for dinner at the Irregardless and the show last night.

I love those guys.

With front row seats to gratuitous male nudity (a brief shower scene, but plenty of other semi-nude pulchritude), no shit I was pleased ... no, ecstatic from beginning to end.

South Pacific is my favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein musical (tied closely with Carousel).  The revival focuses on atmosphere (a beautiful fluid set evocative of the 1940s, without overdoing the kitsch, and lovely, sometimes eerie lighting) and somewhat more authentic casting choices than the 1958 film production, namely the casting of a Polynesian actor as Bloody Mary and a lead with a real Southern accent (sorry, Mitzi).

This is, of course, not the Broadway cast ... but it's hard for me to imagine anyone better in the role of Nellie Forbush than Texas-born Carmen Cusack.  I'd never heard of her, and she was mesmerizing.  Her voice and delivery, like everyone else's in the cast, were perfect, and close up we were able to see every nuance of emotion on her face.  She was like a younger, more lyric version of Patricia Clarkson.

She plays the blindly optimistic and naively racist military nurse with the right mix of sympathy (she commands the stage like no one I've ever seen!) and inner turmoil.  How much of her subtle performance is lost past the fifth row is (luckily) something I can't comment on, but she was spot on from our seats!

Having never seen the show before, I can compare it only to the Joshua Logan movie version with Mitzi Gaynor.  This version is much better than that ... and I love the film version.  Sher has "de-camped" it, playing the sentiments sweetly but realistically, showing the outsized characters for the living breathing human beings they are, playing up the sexiness of the setting and the situation, and driving home the theme of racism: the song "You Have to Be Carefully Taught" (explaining that hate is learned, not natural--listen up, Maine!) is as applicable today as it was sixty years ago ... bummer.

This is an old-fashioned musical ... with songs you can remember and hum.  And they just keep rolling out:  "Bali Hai," "Some Enchanted Evening," "There Is Nothin Like a Dame," "A Cockeyed Optimist," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair," "Younger Than Springtime," "A Wonderful Guy," "Honey Bun," and "Happy Talk."  Each song is performed without embellishment but with a purity that makes you believe you never really heard that song before.  The dreadful blindness of "Cockeyed Optimist" is unexpected, not at all what I remembered, and "Happy Talk," catchy, sweet, and romantic, seems as coercive and manipulative as indeed it should.

If I could, I'd be at the theater this instant to see the show again.  And again and again every night it's town.

Yes, it's true, I am that gay!

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