Rogers & Hammerstein’s


Directed by Lloyd Nicholson

Malkin Bowl, Stanley Park, Vancouver BC

Thursday, 20 July 2000


By June Heywood

Can we continue to condone racism and sexism under the guise of entertainment?

South Pacific is a musical set on a recaptured French-governed Polynesian island during World War II. It is six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. American service men and women, sent to supply goods and services to their troops, find themselves ill prepared for life among foreign nationals.

Three major threads are drawn from James Michener’s best selling book, Tales of the South Pacific. The main love story is between American nurse Nellie Forbush (played adequately by Janet Gigliotti) and French exile/plantation owner Emile deBecque (played by an older Edward Evanko who probably, when younger, had a more modulated voice and a better memory for accents).

The secondary love story is between Lt. Joseph Cable (Steve Maddock) and Liat (Emily Cheung). It is a mixed race romance so, in the gendre of the time, doomed to failure. The compliant Vietnamese teen is a beautiful, passing shadow. The part of Cable is more fleshed out and performed with tender strength. Steve Maddock has a clear and wide-ranging voice that hits the high notes perfectly even when he is not in time with the orchestra. It is not surprising to learn from the liner notes that he hones his vocal skills with choral ensembles.

Grace Chan, as Bloody Mary, Liat’s scheming mother and funny, savvy business woman, has terrific stage presence with an impressive, rich alto voice to go with the performance. She steals her scenes.

The final major thread to the story is preparations for the show within the show that takes place after a significant undercover operation into enemy territory.

Several scenes feature both male and female chorus numbers. They are somewhat amateurish, perhaps deliberately so under Lloyd Nicholson’s direction. Players come through the audience, their voices not miked and up from the front sides of the stage appearing like animals out of the jungle. In one scene, a jeep is driven nervously a few yards across the grass to very little purpose.

The show stopper in the first half of the program is the dance performed by Paul Tavai-Latta’s Polynesian Dancers. These four nubile dancers in grass skirts and scanty tops undulate and shimmy in perfect synchronization. Their matching smiles and twinkling eyes convey their pure enjoyment to the appreciative audience.

Jean Claude Olivier’s sets, reminiscent of a bygone age, are added to by some props and set decorations supplied by Paul Latta Show Productions. Julia Vandergraf’s lighting adds depth to the sets and costumes which are authentic to the 1940’s.

The 23-piece orchestra, conducted by Wendy Bross-Stuart, sits under the stage. The music is supportive, yet unobtrusive. Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics can be clearly heard accompanied by Richard Rogers’ melodies.

After the final applause, the satisfied audience rises from its plastic chairs. The people clutch bug spray and blankets as they file through the forest to their cars singing their favourite numbers from the show.

No one remembers the words or music to the song, “You’ve Gotta Be Taught How to Hate.”