If you have nothing to watch tonight (or even if you do), then I’m going to insist that you turn on your local PBS station at 8:00 for tonight’s presentation of Live at Lincoln Center. The program will be broadcasting from the Vivian Beaumont Theater, where they will be showing tonight’s performance of Lincoln Center’s revival of South Pacific.
This production, which opened over two years ago, is the first full-scale Broadway revival of South Pacific since the original production in 1949. The general consensus among Broadway creative types had been that the show was an important but unmountable classic. Its operatic score wouldn’t hold up in a field of pop/rock competition. Its tone was too naive for a public watching war unfold. Its script also trafficked in stereotype that would be a death knell in the politically correct age. But director Bartlet Sher shook the dust off South Pacific, and assembled an unbeatable on- and off-stage team to breathe ebullient, arresting new life into the piece.
For this special Live at Lincoln Center event, and for the remainder of the show’s run, the original principal cast members (except for Matthew Morrison; he’s a little busy with Glee) have returned. I mean no disrespect to their replacements, but having seen the show with the original cast, I can’t imagine it any other way. Morrison inhabited the humble, duty-bound Cable as fully as he does the passionate Mr. Schu. Danny Burstein and Loretta Ables Sayre took two roles that may have been written as comic relief and turned them into crucial, three-dimensional characters. And Kelli O’Hara and Paulo Szot, as star-crossed idealists Nellie and Emile, had some of the most believable and enviable on-stage chemistry I’ve ever seen. They also have voices that are more or less unparalleled in the Broadway community. You listen to Paulo Szot sing “Some Enchanted Evening” or “This Nearly Was Mine”, and you just think, “Man, they don’t write shit like that anymore,” and then you kind of wish somebody would.
Almost upstaging the cast are the astonishing sets, which make use of every square inch of the Beaumont’s malleable space, and the phenomenal pit orchestra, which, at thirty-five tuxedo-ed members strong, provides the first and perhaps greatest thrill of the entire performance. I only hope it can be adequately captured on camera.
So, really, park yourself on the couch at 7:59 and take advantage of the fact that you can watch what has been one of the best things on Broadway these past two–or maybe ten–years for free.