Theater Review: "South Pacific"
Theater Review: "Rent"
"There are moments where music is so haunting, so absolutely pure, that it
literally sends chills through one’s body. For me, “Bali Ha’i,” sung by
Keala Settle, is one of those moments. The song -- dark, sensual, and
dreamy -- is only one of the many gems in the performance of South
Pacific, which I saw last Tuesday at the Golden Gate Theater in San
Francisco. This production, directed by Bartlett Sher, is the first Broadway revival of the
classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, and will run in San Francisco
through October 25.
The story of South Pacific is simple enough. In the midst of World War II, a
number of lost souls are gathered on a lonely island in the South Pacific,
waiting – for orders, for a war, for peace, for freedom. Among them are
Ensign Nellie Forbush, a nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas; Emile de Becque, a
French plantation owner; Lt. Joseph Cable; and Bloody Mary, a native woman
trying to make a living among the soldiers who have overtaken her island.
As is the case in musicals everywhere, romance blossoms. However,
what makes South Pacific unique is its depiction of racism driving a
wedge between the lovers.
Nellie Forbush, played with verve by Carmen Cusack, falls deeply in love
with Emile de Becque (Rod Gilfrey), and is forgiving even when she learns
that he fled France after killing a man – but she cannot stomach the idea
that he was in a relationship with one of the native women, with whom he
fathered two children. And Lt. Joe Cable, played by the silver-tongued
Anderson Davis, is immediately enchanted by Liat (Sumie Maeda), the
charming daughter of Bloody Mary (Keala Settle), but he cannot even
begin to consider how he would go about introducing Liat to his mother
back home in Philadelphia.
Rodgers and Hammerstein did not shy away from tackling the topic of racism
when they first unveiled this musical in 1949, and this remarkable
theme remains one of the most serious threads in the production today.
Bringing lightness to South Pacific are the ensemble pieces by the sailors,
led by the indomitable Luther Billis (Matthew Saldivar), a goodhearted
sailor hopelessly devoted to Nellie. Their songs, most notably “Bloody Mary”
and “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame,” are show-stopping numbers that easily
draw delight from the audience. Other gorgeous pieces include “Younger than
Springtime,” sung by Lt. Cable, “Some Enchanted Evening," sung by Emile, and
of course, “Bali Ha’i.”
The infectious energy of South Pacific is accented perfectly by the staging,
flawlessly evokes the beauty and mysticism of the South Pacific. In
short, Bartlett Sher has unearthed an excellent production, notable for the
seriousness of the themes it tackles, the pure entertainment delivered by
its musical numbers, and the cast which delivers a seductive South Pacific that
you won’t want to leave."
"At precisely 8:00 on Wednesday night, a theatre crowded with Broadway
aficionados went insane. Why? Because two people had just walked
onstage. Who? Gandhi, perhaps? President Obama? Or even, dare I say,
Santa Claus? No. No, no, and no. It was Adam Rapp, accompanied by
Anthony Pascal, playing the parts they originated (Mark Cohen and
Roger Davis, respectively) in the latest national tour of RENT.
Accompanying them is the talented Gwen Stewart, who reprises her
original role as the soloist in "Seasons of Love," which is arguably
the most famous song of the musical.
This limited run in San Francisco will run through October 18 at
Curran Theatre, and the latest incarnation of the groundbreaking 90s
rock opera does not disappoint. RENT itself is the rock opera of rock
operas, the show that defined a generation of Broadway-goers, the
story that spoke to all 20-somethings trying to make it in the Big
Apple. And then, of course, we can't forget that RENT is the musical
that dealt so sympathetically and candidly with the AIDS epidemic that
it earned a Pulitzer Prize for its troubles.
Although most RENT lovers will be beyond thrilled to see Rapp and
Pascal just exist in the same theatre again (and don't get me wrong -
they give excellent performances), to me the strengths of the show are
in the ensemble pieces, as well as in some unbelievable standout
performances by the rest of the cast. Every time the company is
together and singing (as in "Rent," "Another Day," "La Vie Boheme,"
and "Seasons of Love"), the energy of the stage explodes. Justin
Johnston as Angel steals every scene he's in with his flashy antics
combined with genuine kindness, as well as his acrobatic vocal
stylings. Lexi Lawson plays Mimi with a touching strain of innocence
and a voice of pure gold, and Nicolette Hart as Maureen brings the
house down with her fabulous performance of "Over the Moon." Other
fantastic numbers to watch for include "Tango: Maureen," "Light My
Candle," and "What You Own."
There are many messages one can take from RENT, and the beauty of this
musical is that there is something for everyone. Yes, part of what
initially defined its popularity was the sudden emergence of a musical
for the youth, for the struggling artist, for the lost who are just
trying to find meaning in their lives. But there is more than that.
RENT is about forgiveness, about kindness, about giving, and most of
all, about love.
Die-hard RENT fans, you won't be disappointed. This production of RENT
features an energetic and passionate cast that promises to gather an
entirely new generation of devotees to its curtains. And to the rest
of you: this is perhaps the last time you will see three original cast
members in a national tour of this brilliant show. The time to see
RENT is now. No day but today."