In love with a wonderful, classic ‘South Pacific’

“Classy” and “classic” best describe the national tour of the revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.”

A pitch-perfect production of the multiple Tony Award-winning musical (both the 1949 original and this 21st century version were honored) is onstage at the Golden Gate Theatre, presented by Best of Broadway.

Fans of musical theater, or those who want to learn about the art form’s history, shouldn’t miss this show, directed by San Francisco native Bartlett Sher.

Of course, emphasis is on the incredible score of songs everyone knows — “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Younger Than Springtime,” “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame,” “Bali Ha’i,” “A Wonderful Guy” — played wonderfully by a large orchestra under the direction of Lawrence Goldberg.

But the production gives equal focus to the evocative, still relevant book (by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan, based on James Michener’s novel “Tales of the South Pacific”), which takes a penetrating look at mixed-raced relationships during World War II.

On Wednesday’s opening night, the top-notch cast looked like they weren’t acting at all.

As Nellie Forbush, the young Navy nurse from Arkansas who falls for a middle-aged Frenchman, versatile-voiced Carmen Cusack achieves a delicious balance of sweet and smart and not-too-cute.

Baritone Rod Gilfry, known to San Francisco Opera patrons, is a powerhouse as Emile de Becque, the mysterious older fellow whom Nellie loves at more or less first sight.

Bloody Mary, the larger-than-life native woman who drives a hard bargain with the sailors and connects her daughter up with the new lieutenant in town, is played with sass by Keala Settle.

Anderson Davis manages to combine machismo and sensitivity as Lt. Joe Cable, who learns a thing or two about himself when faced with the prospect of marrying Mary’s daughter. He gets the show’s juiciest-themed song, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” about the origins of prejudice.

Matthew Saldivar is a kick as Luther Billis, the fast-talking, highly organized sailor who travels to Bali Ha’i and cuts a rug in the Navy’s “Thanksgiving Follies.”

Catherine Zuber’s colorful costumes come right out of the era, Michael Yeargan’s sets effectively use Venetian blinds and maps as backdrops, carefully avoiding gimmicks, while Donald Holder’s beautiful, subtle lighting conjures island moods.

On opening night, that spirit was sustained outside the theater and onto public transit, where enthusiastic hummed strains of “Bali Ha’i” were heard on BART.

 

THEATER REVIEW

South Pacific

Presented by Best of Broadway

  • Where: Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco
  • When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 25
  • Tickets: $30 to $99
  • Contact: (415) 512-7770, www.shnsf.com

 

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