Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Rob's review of The Iceman Cometh
Most people of a certain age have seen South Pacific either on stage or on film, and know most of the songs. It's one of those musicals in which almost every song is memorable both in melody and lyrics. (I can't think of any musical fitting that description written in the past 30 years.) You only need to hear the words "across a crowded room," and you most likely can sing to yourself all the rest of "Some Enchanted Evening." There's one song, less well known, that everybody in the world should hear: "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught." It might be the most significant song that Rodgers and Hammerstein ever wrote.
South Pacific is an almost flawless piece of musical theater. The only things that keep if from perfection are a couple bits in the second act. I'm not crazy about the "Honey Bun" number, and there's an unnecessary scene with Luther Billis and his commanding officers in which the show seems to forget that it's a musical. Otherwise, it's a superbly crafted show.
Since it's so familiar, if you're going to mount it, it had better be very well done. I'm happy to report that the Albuquerque Little Theatre production is terrific. Bill Potenziani has directed it before, and his experience shows in everything, down to the smallest detail. He designed the set with Glenn Pepe, ALT's technical director, and it provides beautiful scenery and allows seamless scene changes. The costumes for a cast of 28 are remarkably well designed by Joe Moncada and Sharon Welz. The lighting by Billy Tubb is truly impressive, and congratulations to Lando Ruiz and sound board operator Tobanna Barker for getting the sound just right. Vicki Marie Singer stage manages and, as always, makes it all work; somehow she has the energy to run the lightboard too.
The performances surprised me in their professionalism. There isn't a weak voice or weak actor in the entire cast. Jenni Goodman, who plays Nellie Forbush, is new to me; she's wonderful in the role and I hope she appears on stage more often. Mark Pino is a fine Emile de Becque, maintaining a convincing accent and singing beautifully.
Matthew Amend has a lovely tenor voice and acts well as Lieutenant Cable. Joshua Vallano is a lot of fun as Luther Billis, the conniver/entrepreneur of the Seabees base. Calandra Wilson steals the show every time she walks on stage as Bloody Mary; she's got presence and a great voice and look. All the rest, and there are a lot of them, are a pleasure to watch.
One last thing: I think the ending of the show is more touching if you know the meaning of the French lyrics of "Dites-Moi," the song that begins and ends the show. South Pacific was written at a time (1949) when most people had taken French as a second language in school. That's not the case anymore. I don't mean to condescend, but here's my translation: "Tell me why life is beautiful; tell me why life is happy; tell me why, dear Mademoiselle; is it because you love me?"
South Pacific, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan, is being presented at the Albuquerque Little Theatre on Central Avenue. Through April 2, 2017. Friday and Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2:00. Tickets range from $15 for children to $25 for adults. Seniors $23. Info at www.albuquerquelittletheatre.org or 505-242-4750.