Review – South Pacific – Lincoln Center

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South Pacific is one of the two shows that a positive review in the New York Times left me drooling to see. “This ‘South Pacific’ recreates the unabashed, unquestioning romance that American theatergoers had with the American book musical in the mid-20th century”? Ooh baby. That is the era of musical theater I worship, and Roger and Hammerstein are its deities. With a trip to New York on my schedule, South Pacific became the one show I had to see (thanks to the fortuitous temporary relocation of the Steppenwolf to these shores).

But by the time I got around to trying to buy tickets – fuggedabout it! Even with extra shows added for Christmas, there was nothing available until after I left! And the prices – good God! Who would have thought I’d been spoiled in London? But at straight prices, we were looking at $75 for the row D & E seats in the balcony (“loge”), and $125 for ALL other seats, both main floor (Orchestra/stalls) and the front three rows of the balcony! GOOD GOD! This was going to wipe my budget out in one fell swoop!

I can’t say whether or not there are any kind of discounts availble for this show (i.e. for students or groups), as I wouldn’t have qualified for them. I found myself thrown in the arms of a horror I’d attempted to avoid for years – the ticket scalper reseller. This is, unsurprisingly, QUITE the business in New York. I spent a lot of time popping around from one online site to another – easy enough when you’re at work, online, and singlemindedly focused – and the site that I like a lot was Tickets Now, which gets creds from me for being legitimate (it’s owned by Ticketmaster) and for having a really wide variety of dates and prices. I can’t say just how it works – it seemed like some of the tickets might have required meeting someone for a handoff – but it DID have tickets even below cost. And it had a deal that let you get $100 off your order if you applied for the American Express blue card – but be advised if you do that, your coupon may take a week (or more) to show up – in this case, not soon enough for me. And at costs starting rather too often at around $250 per ticket … well, I could find other things to do for that kind of money, which would get me through an entire season at the Royal Ballet. (Note: this site seems to be a good one for single tickets – keep this in mind.)

What was I to do? Well, I went to Ebay at a friend’s recommendation, and there I found a pair of tickets for sale for the princely sum of $170. Wait … at $125 per seat, this turned out to be below cost! These were offered by Ebay seller CalPaul47, and while I was a bit nervous about the whole thing, a note appeared (after I started buying the tickets?) saying that all Ebay ticket purchases made with/in New York were protected by New York’s laws on ticket resalers – which still left me feeling quite nervous about the whole thing. With overnight shipping, this was almost $200, the most I’d ever paid for anything on Ebay! How horrible if it all went wrong somehow!

As it turns out I needn’t have worried. The tickets made it to my friend’s office on time, as promised, and when we met her at the bar (just after getting off the plane and dropping off our bags), she had them in her hot little hands. These were “etickets” of a sort I hadn’t seen before – they had a bar code on them which the usher scanned (the next day) on our way into Lincoln Center – so far so good! We wound up with seats 515 and 516 in row A, and I was actually quite grumpy about this when I realized that in the big arc surrounding the stage (imagine the seats forming the curve of a letter D, with the stage as the straight bar), we were at the very point where the curve met the bar. This, I think, accounted for the lower price – but to be honest it wasn’t really that bad, as there was only ONE scene (when the girls were finishing “I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair”) when there was important action happening on stage we couldn’t see. Otherwise, FOR THE PRICE, they were just fine – but they were NOT $200 seats each, no way, Jose. The price we paid was more or less right.

And, after all of that build-up, how was the show? It seems like it’s difficult to add much to a show that’s already been so effusively reviewed. But I had this advantage: despite knowing a few of the songs, I didn’t know most of them, and in fact didn’t really know much at all about the plot, as I’d given up on watching it the one time we rented it (the tape was destroyed and no fun at all). So for me, this was practically a completely new show which I was seeing as a blank slate.

So what happened after the curtain came up and the orchestra finished the overture (and the floor rolled back over the orchestra so that there was a nice thrust stage for people to perform on)? Well, Kelli O’Hara, our little Nellie Forbush, came out singing “Cockeyed Optimist” with a voice that sounded like melting honey … and I was totally sold on everything, for the whole show. Was David Pittsinger (Emil DeBeq) maybe a little creepy to be wanting to date a girl who looked to be 35 years younger than he was? (He looked to be fifteen years older than his character’s backstory seemed to indicate.) Well, with a deep, strong voice like his, who cared? And how was it I’d never heard “Some Enchanted Evening” before? (Picture me getting goosebumps as I type this)?

There are some little clunky bits with the show. “Dites Moi” is just too cute to be tolerated, but I was shocked to find “Happy Talk,” which I’d found nauseating on paper (and on the soundtrack), actually brought tears to my eyes because of the way it fit into the story. God, I’ve become a sap as I’ve gotten older. I found Nellie somewhat lacking in career goals, though the whole fact that she’d left a small town and joined the navy – for rough duty – was still pretty impressive. And, well, the whole bit about Nellie hating the thought of being the mother to mixed race kids … it’s not like the world has really changed that much, and to me it just seemed like facing up to the reality of how America still is in many ways, “under the skin” as it were. And the Bloody Mary character, she just seemed to be a cartoon Polynesian fantasy of Rogers and Hammerstein rather than the least bit real.

The staging was great – I loved the airplane on stage for the “Wash That Man” song, and I really enjoyed the use of light, shadows, and Venetian blinds to create the feel of a plantation during the DeBecque scenes. I was really just sucked into the whole thing wholeheartedly. In fact, at the end, when DeBecque is risking his life along with another soldier, I found myself getting rather emotionally involved. Ah well. Isn’t that what theater is supposed to be like? At any rate, a great evening out, a wonderful show – do try to see it!

(This review is for a performance that took place on December 20th, 2008.)

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