Theater Everybody Loves Bartlett
posted by April 8 at 12:17 PMon
Critics high and low are going all squishy and gushy about the new Broadway revival of South Pacific (which opened at the Lincoln Center on April 3).
And they’re giving special rose-petal-and-champagne showers to director Bartlett Sher, who will most certainly be nominated again for a directing Tony (to add to his previous nominations for Piazza and Awake and Sing).
Under the elegant, astute direction of Bartlett Sher, Lincoln Center’s revival—the first on Broadway since the show’s début—is a majestic spectacle. Conjured by Michael Yeargan’s superb sets and Donald Holder’s evocative lighting, the romantic and rollicking nineteen-forties world comes to life. But there is nothing retro about the show’s debate. Now, as then, the nation is stuck on issues of race, war, and, as the musical puts it, a ‘thing called hope.’
I know we’re not supposed to expect perfection in this imperfect world, but I’m darned if I can find one serious flaw in this production… I think a lot of us had forgotten that’s what ‘South Pacific’ is really about. In making the past feel unconditionally present, this production restores a glorious gallery of genuine people who were only waiting to be resurrected.
And Terry Teachout, my perennial favorite, in the Wall Street Journal—he identifies flaws in the source material, but cannot stop himself from drooling over Sher:
Why did South Pacific vanish from the New York stage after so triumphant and profitable a run? Lincoln Center Theater’s awesomely fine revival, which opened last night, answers that question once and for all. Bartlett Sher, best known on Broadway for his work on The Light in the Piazza, has directed it as well as it can possibly be directed, and Kelli O’Hara is giving a full-fledged name-above-the-title performance in the starring role created six decades ago by Mary Martin. Nearly every aspect of this production — sets, costumes, lighting, even the sumptuous-sounding orchestra — is exemplary. Yet the show itself, in spite of its hit-laden score, left me tepid, and I suspect that most people seeing it for the first time will feel the same way.
South Pacific goes dead in the water every time the characters stop singing and start talking, which is way too often…. Will true love purge our poor benighted heroine of her racism? Will her middle-aged suitor be killed in a daredevil mission behind Japanese lines? Would that one could care, but Hammerstein preaches his sermon with head-thumping triteness.
Bonus round: South Pacific has given the swoony gays at Modern Fabulosity a new object d’amour in Paolo Szot, the Brazilian opera singer playing Emile De Bec:
We chatted, but all too soon he turned to go…but not before locking eyes with mine and thanking me, deeply, gratefully, soulfully, for coming to the show. I tried to yell out, ‘I Will Be Your Babymama,’ but he was already moving down the hall. And like that (poof)… he was gone. But he will be mine. Oh yes, he will be mine. I’m a Broadway stalker from way back, bitches… Bali H’ai is calling my name, and on some enchanted evening soon, Paolo will definitely see this stranger across a crowded room, if you know what I’m saying, and I think you do.
Congratulations, Mr. Sher.