On Stage: South Pacific National Tour at Wolf Trap

Nellie and Emile from National Tour of South Pacific

Nellie and Emile from National Tour of South Pacific- although we saw a different Nellie.
image from southpacificontour.com

She Said: South Pacific

I love South Pacific! So, I was really excited when I heard that the tour was coming somewhere near us. We even had it as a nominee for our last round of choose our adventure voting (Don’t worry- we know we still owe you a few DC features- the time and money required for those ventures have just not been available yet). I have talked before about how much I love Goldstar (discount tickets) they are really nice to deal with and they have some really cool deals. When I saw that they had cheap tickets for South Pacific, I scraped our last bit of spending money and bought them. We were the last stop for the tour so this was a very limited opportunity and we hadn’t seen a show in so long.

I had never been to Wolf Trap before and I have to say the pictures don’t really prepare you. If I told you it was an outdoor venue where you could actually see live theatre you might be charmed. Don’t fall for it!!! I can’t stand this venue. I usually dress up on the rare night that RJ and I get to go out on the town.  The mile long walk from the parking lot was not fun in dress shoes. The pavement wasn’t too bad but the gravel, grass and wood floor (that I got my heel stuck in repeatedly) were not fun at all. The seats are really hard. I mean really, really hard. I also felt like they are closer together than traditional theatre seats are. We sat in the rear orchestra and had very good view of the stage. During the show, the birds that flew through and the planes that flew over where noticeable distractions but well handled by the cast.

I’m a big Rodgers and Hammerstein fan. I have always loved South Pacific because it has so much beautiful music. “Cock Eyed Optimist”, “ I’m In Love With a Wonderful Guy” and “Some Enchanted Evening” are such wonderful songs. Musically speaking I only have one big problem with this show: “This Nearly Was Mine” I’ve only ever heard one person (John Hedges in A Grand Night For Singing at Barter Theatre, Summer 2001) do a good job on this song. I found myself so distracted during the performance of this song I had to keep mentally reprimanding and reminding myself to pay attention. This production was from the recent Lincoln Center revival, which I had seen on television, but seeing it in person was a wonderful treat. The show’s wonderful live music was a treat and many elements of the execution combined to make it a super- duper wonderful treat.

The acting in the show was pretty solid.  The girl playing Nellie did a good job, but she kind of seemed to be doing a Kelli O’ Hara impersonation and didn’t bring very much of herself to the piece. The guy playing Emile had a great voice and a really nice presence. RJ thought he was too Italian or Latin but I thought he totally seemed and sounded French. The choreography of the show was nice. The guy playing Luther Billis was the performance standout of the night rendering a performance that was recognizable as Billis but managing to give the part some of his own influence. (I typically try to use someone’s actual name in a review but I can’t find my program-sorry!) Only two choices from a performance perspective really sullied this for me. I didn’t like nudity during the sailor’s shower scene. That’s right, you are probably asking yourself “what’s she talking about” and I’m still pondering it myself. One of the scenes opened with some male nudity. I really didn’t pay good money to see anyone’s behind and it didn’t add anything except annoyance for me. Well, it also caused a lot of people to whisper and act immature around us. I also didn’t like Liat ripping her top open. The audience wasn’t shown this for long but two seconds is too long to me. Everyone gets what they are going to do you don’t have to literally show me everything. The story is definitely a mature one and it handles the themes of racism in a very though provoking manner. I was touched when I first saw the movie at the age of 14 about how there really is no difference between any of us and how sad it is that people have missed out on loving each other based on the color of their skin. I know in many cases we have moved passed racism (hey, we are technically an interracial couple), but sometimes racism still pops it’s ugly head up and we need to be reminded to never let ourselves regress to that point. I don’t really like some of the crude references about sex and women and I prefer when it’s more toned down.

The set for the show was really cool. The beach with the lighted background was lovely and made me feel that I was at the beach. I loved the French doors that symbolized Emile’s home. They were positively ingenious with the stage rotating for the Thanksgiving show within a show! The coolest things about the sets were the sections of James A. Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific that were displayed at the beginning of the show. The lighting was very effective for most of the evening but possibly a little diminished in purpose as the evening waned.  The costumes were great. I loved Nellie’s clothes and the nurse’s swimsuits were awesome!

I have another really big problem with the venue (aside from being cold, hot, uncomfortable and having eyestrain at the end of the night.) I am angry about food. First of all, it’s not an easy venue to find. We were later than we had intended to be because the signs aren’t very clearly marked. We were also later getting to our seats because of the long hike from the far-flung parking lot. We had only minutes to gulp a few bites of candy because they don’t allow any food inside the pavilion. Seriously, people it’s outside! Birds flew through during the performance and you are scared of me with a box of popcorn? I was really angry when I saw that many ushers turned a blind eye and saw several people all around us eating gourmet salads and paninis! Ugh, I was really upset. We grabbed a pretzel over intermission that tasted like chlorine and was cold. It cost $6.00. I’m not very happy at all about that.

We were always so uncomfortable (hot, cold, squinty, hungry, etc) that I don’t have any cute pictures of us. I can’t stand Wolf Trap as a venue and I would only go back if there was something really, really amazing playing there.

I still love South Pacific, though. The show for the most part was really lovely and was a real treat to see!

Wolf Trap Venue (parking, food, experience)- 1

South Pacific National Tour- 7

He Said:  South Pacific

I love taking Kari to the theatre.  Even though we don’t like what’s on Broadway right now.   We’re suckers for good plays, especially good musicals.  South Pacific is a classic.  The original movie adaptation is pretty much unwatchable due to poor cinematography, but it’s still a great story.

This revival is very enjoyable.  Everyone sings beautifully.  The songs and the overall story still retain their power, and both are still entertaining.  The acting isn’t always as good as it could be in some places, but overall is highly watchable.  Especially good was the performance of the actor that played Luther Billis.  Normally that character is played solely for laughs, but here he shows some pathos in his crush on Nellie.  The choreography was spot on for the most part.  The dancing in “There is Nothing Like a Dame” managed to show the innermost emotions of the Seabees as they long to interact with women after so long a period of being in theater.

My biggest gripe with this show was the performance of Emile de Becque.  I’m not sure I’ve ever liked any actor I’ve seen in this part.  Emile is supposed to be French, but most of the famous versions are played by Italians including the great Rossano Brazzi.  This has led to a very muddy dialect for poor Emile.  He should sound more French than any one every plays him.  I take this one pretty personally, because he’s the character I would want to play most if I was ever in South Pacific.

The content of this play is at an unexpected crossroads.  It’s not as dirty as a lot of modern shows, but you forget just how much blue material is in this play.  This production does actually have some nudity.  It’s only a man’s butt as he’s getting out of the shower for comedic shock value, but why have it at all?  I think the source material does do a good job of handling very human, and sexually problems in a way that is realistic, but not overly salacious.

The biggest problem I had with our night was the venue itself.  Wolf Trap is not a very fun place to go for date night.  It’s a long walk uphill from the car.  That I can forgive.  They have a weird policy where even though you can picnic freely on the lawn area, no food of any kind is allowed into the pavilion itself.  This made things very difficult.  It looks like they serve some very interesting food at their concessions stands, but we couldn’t eat any of it because we couldn’t take it back to our seats!  I have no problem with barring outside food from inside the pavilion, but not being able to buy the venue’s own food and bring it back to my seat really upsets me.  Pavilion seats cost more than lawn seats, why should you have fewer rights for that extra money?  If you’ve bought a seat in the pavilion you’ve already shown a proclivity for a bigger spend, so why doesn’t Wolf Trap acknowledge and exploit this.  We had to wait until after the show to eat, instead of eating there as we had planned, and wound up hungry and very mad at Wolf Trap.  It’s going to have to be a very high quality show that gets us back in there again.

South Pacific Rating- 7

Wolf Trap Rating- 1