Monday, February 7, 2011

Smooth Sailing at South Pacific

Posted By on Mon, Feb 7, 2011 at 5:00 PM

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I'm not a theater critic. But as Arts Editor, I do get around, and don't mind sharing a few half-baked opinions.

In that vein, allow me to say that Friday night's performance of South Pacific at Playhouse Square's Palace Theatre was an old-fashioned charmer. A production of the Lincoln Center Theater, the traveling troupe included a cast of 34 and the largest orchestra of any touring Broadway show in the country, harkening back to Broadway's Golden Era when big shows meant big music.

First performed in 1949, the Rodgers & Hammerstein play deals — however slightly — with issues of war, racism, and patriotism, making it a tad more relevant than most of the classics of musical theater.

Production values were high, with sophisticated sets, costumes, and lighting. The dance numbers, especially the Seabees initial number, "Bloody Mary," were joyful and energetic, Still, for me and apparently most of the audience, the real appeal was in the singing, especially that of David Pittsinger in the role of Emile de Becque, whose powerful pipes nearly shook the plaster on the Palace's ornate ceiling. Even a bout of feedback from his microphone during an early number failed to detract. Much.

No surprise to learn that Pittsinger, who reprised the role he had performed on Broadway, is an accomplished performer with the Met, the NYCO, and the Pittsburgh Opera.

While the rest of the company didn't quite reach Pittsinger's level, they did something every bit as important: They delivered every tune just the way it sounded on Grandma's original cast recording. No cheating, no modifying, no "interpreting." Every note was just where we expected it — delivered with precision and respect for the original tune.

The absence of that was one of the things that bugged me about Backwards in High Heels recently at the Playhouse: classic tunes from Gershwin and Kern delivered just a little off kilter, with notes that didn't quite fall where expected, and slight variances that, while perhaps not exactly wrong, certainly didn't sound exactly right.

We can only hope the standing o that Pittsinger & Co. predictably — and deservedly — received made up for the audience's evening-long coughing fits, paper rustling, and half-hearted applause.

Performances continue through Feb. 13. If you have a chance to go, I recommend it.

For tickets or more information go to www.playhousesquare.org.

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