|Lisa McCune as Nellie Forbush with|
Eddie Perfect as Luther Billis
And that’s before anyone has opened their mouths for the first sing-through. Although director Bartlett Sher says, in his easy-going relaxed way ‘just take it easy, you don’t have to perform today’, everyone does, they’ve come with their accents impressively in place. And why wouldn’t you, when your director is a Tony award-winner described by the New York Times as ‘one of the most original and exciting directors not only in the American theatre but also in the international world of opera.’
|Michael Hart and Teddy Tahu|
Rhodes in rehearsal
As if that were not enough, Lisa McCune flirts her way with perfectly-calibrated poise into her role as small-town southern nurse Nellie Forbush while Eddie Perfect’s cabaret swagger allows him to slip seamlessly into the comic role of Luther Billis, the shady womanising sailor. Dream casting.
|South Pacific men's ensemble enter|
the scene with energy abounding
Then he plunges headlong into a gritty explanation of the musical’s subtext and historical background. It’s much more than an island romance.
‘The elephant in the room is race,’ Bartlett announces. Everyone goes quiet: you can hear the sound of real listening (it’s like the air gets denser) as he illustrates the intricacies of naval protocol (nurses are all officers and off limits to enlisted men) including the segregation of Afro-American troops (‘You are going to have to help me out with understanding your own racial issues here’ he says breezily, and you wonder who is going to be bold enough to start that conversation), the role of the Seabees (construction battalions who did not follow military codes of dress or discipline) stationed on the island that we know today as Vanuatu. (‘Has anyone talked to you about tanning yet?’ one nurse quizzes another nervously.)
|Kate Ceberano rehearses the role|
of Bloody Mary
‘It’s about cultural collision, and about what people learn through meeting people who are different. The show takes us from innocence to awareness, these kids have never engaged with the world as intensely as they are doing in this exotic place.’
‘Remember the idealism of the times. This was written in 1949, just four years after the end of World War II and there was a real sense of hope, of wanting to build a new and better world. The reality is that I doubt we would go to war today for the same ideals as we did then.’ A provocative statement that leaves everyone grateful it’s not a decision facing them today.