SOUTH PACIFIC | London, Sadler’s Wells

Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s South Pacific (1949) is one of only eleven musicals to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. If you like your Rodgers and Hammerstein enclosed within three corrugated metal walls (Peter McKintosh), with video projections (Gillian Tan) of clip art palm trees and Microsoft Paint, this is the show for you.

We already know the story: small-town American hick Nellie Forbush (Gina Beck) falls in love with rich French runaway Emile de Becque (Julian Ovenden) on a remote Polynesian island during World War II. But she becomes horrified to discover he is already a father of two mixed-race babies. Can true love help her overcome her racism? Yes.

Beck is enchanting as Forbush: instantly likeable, and a brilliant legit mezzo that beautifully treads the line between trad and jazzy, especially for iconic numbers like “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair”. Ovenden is equally charismatic, making the absolute most of his dramatic, under-the-spotlight Act 1 finale, with the strongest half-operatic voice in the cast.

The whole cast is great, despite some bizarre casting (Charlotte Sutton): in this production, Bloody Mary (Joanna Ampil) looks and acts the same age as her daughter, Liat (Sera Maehara), with the usually mysterious siren song “Bali Ha’i” here taken at breakneck speed and sung with the aggression usually saved for a comic number, under the baton of conductor Cat Beveridge. One gets the impression this production is not radical; it’s rushed.

Playing 27 July – 28 August 2022 at Sadler’s Wells in Angel.

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