Ensign Nellie Forbush (Carmen Cusack) isn’t in Little Rock anymore. She is, in fact, serving as a Navy nurse during World War II, stationed on a tiny island in the South Pacific. Nellie has quickly and hopelessly fallen in love with a mysterious, wealth Frenchman, Emile de Becque (Rod Gilfry). While the couple reluctantly succumbs to their attraction for one another, the harsh reality that the world is at war looms.
Nellie is one of the best liked officer among the enlisted men, particularly for Luther Billis (Matthew Saldivar). Billis is the military base’s resident rabble rouser and “procurement specialist.” When he is not dodging his duties or haggling for goods with the island’s own merchant lady, Bloody Mary (Keala Settle), Billis is dreaming of going to Bali Ha’i, the neighboring island with two volcanoes. On Bali Ha’i, the native people stowaway exotic treasures and hide their women and daughters so as not to be spoiled by the American GIs.
Since only officers can requisition boats, Billis sees an opportunity in new arrival Lt. Joseph Cable (Anderson Davis). Bloody Mary immediately sees Lt. Cable as the perfect husband for her daughter, Liat (Sumie Maeda).
Initially, Lt. Cable is all business, the portrait of strength and duty. Only his commanding officers know that he has been sent to this island to find a certain Frenchman whose special knowledge is needed to conduct a secret spy operation. When Emile refuses, Lt. Cable eventually does find himself on Bali Ha’I, where he meets Bloody Mary’s daughter and soon falls in love himself.
Having refused to help Joe Cable, Emile becomes persistent in his pursuit of Nellie. She almost says yes to a proposal of marriage when she finds out that Emile has two children from a previous marriage; two Polynesian children. For the once sweet, big-hearted Nellie, the idea of Polynesian children changes everything. Both Lt. Cable and Nellie are suddenly forced to face their prejudices if their intense new love affairs are to survive.
This production of South Pacific is certainly all about the singing. Carmen Cusack is absolutely charming in the role of witty, lovesick Navy nurse Nellie. She anchors this production superbly, in voice and theatrics. Sumie Maeda and Anderson Davis generate real heat portraying two young lovers from different worlds. And Matthew Saldivar has crafted a wonderful performance in the role of Luther Billis, the ornery trickster who turns out to have a heart of gold.
The Center Theatre Group has certainly picked a sentimental favor with South Pacific. While the staging felt a bit bound by the set pieces and the ballads often brought the show’s momentum to a grinding halt, virtually every number was met with thunderous applause. While there is much comedy and fun engrained in South Pacific, the prevailing mood of the production was pensive. In fact the audience seemed content to lavish in the romantic extravagance of each number. The finish of every song was met with cheers and ovation, much like the ridiculously strong bear hug shared by long lost friends.
The vocal performances of this ensemble are extraordinary. What the solos lacked in choreography and intricate staging, they more than compensated with passionate, moving virtuosity.
The Lincoln Center Theatre Production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific runs now through July 17, 2010 at:
in Downtown Los Angeles
135 N. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
For more Information: 213) 628-2772
Photo Credit: Peter Coombs