Review: South Pacific (Scarborough Music Theatre)
By Samantha Wu
Scarborough Music Theatre’s South Pacific is an incredible night of Toronto theatre
Scarborough Music Theatre takes on the Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers World War II musical South Pacific. This is a story highlighting racial tension and social prejudices during WWII, the only American musical set during this time. Following the love lives of two individuals on a Naval base in the Pacific, the affects of nurture and cultural demands take their toll.
The story revolves around the lives of Nellie Forbush (Jill McMillan), a naval nurse who falls in love with a French widower, Emile de Becque (Mark Tingle), who later discovers that he has two half-Polynesian children, and Lt. Joe Cable (Rob Murphy) who falls in love with a Tonkinese girl Liat (Catherine Uy Huculak). When faced with the reality that the foreign influence of their current location has crept perilously into their lives, the admonishing words of their parents and small town folk come back to haunt the two casting dark shadows on the new love they’ve found.
South Pacific is a revolutionary tale, the first of its kind originally released in 1949 when the war was still a very close memory for the American public along with the heavy racial tension that came with it. This story that spoke against racism, that prejudices and ignorance are taught, created so much of an outcry that the Georgia legislatures being taken back by the song “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught”, attempted to ban the song and subsequently the whole production from being performed in their state claiming that “a song justifying interracial marriage was implicitly a threat to the American way of life”.
Yet despite the heavy subject matter, the story is presented in a lighthearted, campy, tongue in cheek kind of way. The kind of kitschy camp that goes along with cute pin-up style naval nurses being ogled by Marine officers all of whom are stuck on an island. All the while these Americans meet face to face with the exotic Polynesian natives of the island they are on and the neighbouring island with the twin volcanoes, Bali Ha’i. At first it’s the alluring draw of the unusual and mysterious but it’s kept at arms reach until the lines begin to blur.
I hadn’t seen this musical before and attended the performance not knowing what to expect, the name was familiar and I could’ve sworn I had heard the music before, just not sure where. Then it dawned on me that Karen Walker from Will & Grace singing “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” to the washroom mirror was where I caught the reference. I didn’t expect the show to be as campy as it was – perhaps I had themes of Miss Saigon stuck in my head.
But camp and kitsch aside, the performance was excellently done. McMillan carries the show as Nellie, the cute and naive nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas with mother’s biting words against anyone not from Little Rock running through her head. Her slightly nasal voice seemed somewhat hesitant at the beginning of the performance but gained momentum and power throughout the show. I chalk that up to opening night jitters. The little girls who played Emile’s children Ngana and Giselle (Venus Crouse and Isabelle Gu) were absolutely adorable, though there were times I wished that they weren’t the only two microphoned. Hats off to Murphy and Huculak for their equally stunning vocal talents, performance and onstage chemistry.
However, here’s to the one who stole the show – Regina Simon as Bloody Mary (Liat’s mother), a cunning Tonkinese woman happy to sell island souvenirs to handsome American soldiers with American money, and perhaps find a rich foreigner to marry her daughter to. The gusto with which Simon declares “Stiiiingeeeyyy bastaaaaard!!” met with the heckling chuckles of the American soldiers brought instant laughter from the audience. It’s Simon’s willingness to “go there” and play an Asian stereotype, to live it for the sake of the role and progression of story that won me over.
South Pacific is a fun, somewhat hokey story that is full of love and fueled with a powerful and touching message. Incredibly well performed, brought to life on one fantastic set, it’s a sure ticket for an incredible night of theatre in Scarborough.
- South Pacific is playing at the Scarborough Village Theatre (3600 Kingston Road till May 18, 2013
- Performances run from May 2-4, 9-11, and 16-17 at 8 pm with 2 pm matinee performances on May 5, 11, 12 and 18.
- Regular ticket prices are $25.
- Tickets can be purchased online or by phone by calling the box office at 416-267-9292.
Photo by Raph Nogal.