It’s easy to say it was an enchanted evening — with coconut palms, banyan trees and more — thanks to this sunny production of South Pacific at PlayhouseSquare’s Palace Theatre. This much-lauded Lincoln Center version breathes new life into Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved classic. One reason has to be the compelling presence of the two leads.
Bass-baritone David Pittsinger, as French planter Emile de Becque, sang with nuance and feeling, especially in a breath-stopping “This Nearly Was Mine.” Poor Ensign Nellie Forbush (Carmen Cusack) didn’t stand a chance once the sexy-voiced Emile wooed her with “Some Enchanted Evening.” I’ve heard that song probably a million times and thought I’d never be swept away by it again. I was wrong (and I think more than a few in the audience were being swept along with me). Such vocal sophistication (he also sings at the Metropolitan Opera) and grace (the man can act) made pop crush figures such as the Twilight vampires and werewolves look like little boys. If he’d been on the cast recording, I’d have bought it.
Carmen Cusack’s cute-as-a-button Nellie floated a charming soprano (“A Wonderful Guy”) tinged with a sensuous vibe (think Etta James or Ella Fitzgerald) that suggested that this delightful girl from “Little Rock, A. R. K.,” had spent more time in southern blues clubs than in Miss Little Rock contests.
The larger-than-usual orchestra (made up primarily of local musicians) created such a rich sound as soon as the overture began that even the chatter of people settling into their seats was easy to ignore. A strong ensemble cast, cleverly managed sets and lovely costumes makes this a terrific show.
Go. See. South Pacific. It’s just as good as everyone says it is.