Friday, March 21, 2008

South Pacific

I remember the first time I saw South Pacific. My dad and I were in a phase where we were watching a lot classic movie musicals, either at home on our VCR or at the Paramount Movie Theatre in Oakland. Since I enjoyed Carousel so much, he figured that another Rogers and Hammerstein classic would be a good choice. We hunkered down on the couch to start the movie. About twenty minutes in, we were pretty bored already. So we started fast forwarding through the dialogue and skipping straight to the musical numbers. But then we hit "Happy Talk" (which if you're not familiar with, there's really no explaining) and gave up. I never tried watching it again until I was in a production of it - a production that shaved 45 minutes off the original run time, leaving me with very little idea of what actually happens in Act Two (something to do with the army? I mean, navy? who knows).

So as I sat down in the theatre last night, all of this suddenly came rushing back to me. This realization coupled with the projected three hour run time left me questioning why I'd bought this ticket in the first place.

But then the stage pulled back and revealed a full orchestra and the familiar strains of "Bali Hai" came into the theatre and I smiled. When a show has a really good orchestra, right away, I feel better. After too many years of suffering through community theatre orchestras, real musicians playing a classic score really makes my day.

Here are some of my thoughts on the show. I'm numbering them because I like structure. And numbers.

1. Kelli O'hara - I was all prepared to hate her. She's always bothered me (because she's young and blond and thin and successful and gets all these classic alto roles, even though she's a soprano. Talk about God giving with both hands....and not to me). But as I was watching, I realized that the only thing I'd ever seen her in was The Light in the Piazza where she played a "mentally slow" soprano who was pretty annoying (which maybe isn't a fair judge of her entire body of work). She actually made a fairly pleasing army nurse. She has a nice voice (although it's more legit than my taste) and she really played up the "girl from Arkansas" thing, which was good. So I didn't hate her, much to my surprise.

2. The story - Since I'd never actually seen South Pacific all the way through (when I was in it, most of my time was spent dancing around my dressing room and jumping up and down on the Equity cot), I got very caught up in the story in a way I wasn't expecting. Even though I had a vague idea of all the big plot moments, I still found them very affecting. It was actually interesting (although a little dated - more on that in the next number).

3. The racial stuff - South Pacific deals a lot with race. I'm sure that the racial stuff was very groundbreaking in 1949, but in 2008, it seems a little pointless. There's a line where Lt. Cable is imagining what it would be like if he married a Tonkinese girl and brought here back to the US - "Mr. and Mrs. Cable gave an open house last Thursday. Nobody came." While there are still problems facing interracial marriages today, the idea that no one would come to an open house is laughable (maybe it's just weird to me since most of my family is joined in interracial marriage - in fact, I'm not sure if we have any family members who aren't). Also, another line was so off putting to me. A pretty Asian girl walks by and a sailor says something like "ooh, I wish I could tap that" and the other sailor says something like, "No way, she's Asian." What? That's really not the way it is any more. If anything, it's the complete opposite. There are a lot of things that you could say about race that would be relevant to today's culture (read Barack Obama's Speech on race or watch The Wire. But it's hard to see South Pacific as relevant in the same way.

4. The mandatory hotness of Lt. Cable - As I watched Matthew Morrison strut around the stage, I couldn't help thinking, man, he's really hot (hey, Zack wasn't there). Here's a picture so that you know what I'm talking about:

Then I remembered the production I was in a few years ago. The guy playing Lt. Cable was really hot there too. I wondered, is this some sort of role requirement? And then we got to the scene where Bloody Mary brings her scared underage daughter out for Lt. Cable to have sex with and I thought, yes, it is a role requirement. If the Lt. Cable is not really really hot, when he starts to have sex with this girl, your mind immediately screams out "Rape! Underage hookers! Weird geisha/slave situation!" But if he's hot, all your brain is thinking is "Man, he's pretty. This is nice." (This clearly only applies to women/gay men. But hey, Liat is usually pretty hot too. So maybe it's the same).

5. Overall - I enjoyed the show for the most part. But I like classic musicals. And Lincoln Center (I'm weirdly obsessed with Lincoln Center. I wrote a paper on the Chagall at the Met Opera House just so I could stand there and stare at them a lot). But if you don't like classic musicals very much, well then, don't see this show.

Tonight I'm seeing NTUSA's Don Juan at The Chocolate Factory, so that should appeal to those of you who don't like musicals. Happy Friday!

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