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'South Pacific' a subtle, sophisticated triumph
By Barbara Vitello | Daily Herald Staff

U.S. sailors tease and barter with Bloody Mary (Keala Settle, held aloft) in the national tour of Bartlett Sher's Tony Award-winning revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific" running through Sunday, Nov. 29, at the Rosemont Theatre.

 

Carmen Cusack plays cockeyed optimist Nellie Forbush in the national tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific" running through Sunday, Nov. 29, at the Rosemont Theatre.

 

Opera star David Pittsinger plays exiled Frenchman Emile de Becque, who falls in love with a U.S. Navy nurse, in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific." T

 

Carmen Cusack and David Pittsinger star in the national tour of Bartlett Sher's "South Pacific," running through Sunday, Nov. 29, at the Rosemont Theatre.

 

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Published: 11/25/2009 11:13 PM

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Whatever lengths the Village of Rosemont went through to bring the national tour of Bartlett Sher's "South Pacific" to the Rosemont Theatre paid off in abundance at its Chicago-area premiere Tuesday.

Describing Sher's acclaimed Broadway revival will likely exhaust my supply of superlatives, but this production deserves every one of them. It is quite simply magnificent, impressive as much for its inherent musicality and deeply felt humanity as for its grand visuals.

And while Sher has scaled back his 2008 Tony Award-winning production for the tour, you wouldn't know it from the superb show running through Sunday at the Rosemont Theatre. Subtle and sophisticated, this "South Pacific" triumphs on every level, from the expansive arrangements of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's lush score played by a 26-piece orchestra (unheard of in a touring show); to the soaring vocals of Metropolitan Opera's David Pittsinger as French expatriate Emile de Becque, whose richly resonant singing sends shivers down the spine; to Michael Yeargan's handsome set dominated by a stunning South Seas backdrop.

Playing opposite of Pittsinger, who returns to the Broadway production in February, is the disarming Carmen Cusack, the exceptional singer/actress who plays Navy nurse Nellie Forbush. There's a graciousness and sincerity to Cusack, whose honeyed Southern accent suggests that gentility as well as pluck underscores this self-described hick, whose love for the enigmatic Frenchman may not be enough to overcome the prejudices she never realized she held.

Ultimately, that's what "South Pacific" is all about, prejudice, which Sher highlights discreetly but deliberately, keeping African American Seabees separated from their Caucasian counterparts and underscoring the sailor's grudging tolerance of indigenous entrepreneur Bloody Mary (the arresting Keala Settle).

The multifaceted performances of the supporting cast also contribute to this substantive production. Among them is Anderson Davis' vibrantly sung, nicely complex turn as Lt. Joe Cable, the arrogant, battle-worn Marine conflicted over his love for a young native girl. Settle also earns kudos for her dynamic performance illuminating the drive, desperation and devotion that inspires Bloody Mary, whose livelihood is threatened by the U.S. military. Then there's Matthew Saldivar, who reveals that there's more to the enterprising Luther Billis than cunning.

Lastly, iconic songs like "Some Enchanted Evening" and "This Nearly Was Mine" get diminished when they're taken out of context and performed by uninformed singers, say on a TV talent show. This production, especially with Pittsinger's performance, restores their luster, returning them to the pantheon where they belong.

With only five performances remaining, not everyone will have the chance to experience "South Pacific." However, there may be opportunities in the future if Rosemont has anything to say about it. A village consultant says the theater has the right of first refusal for "South Pacific" the next time it plays the Chicago area. Here's hoping we won't have to wait very long.

"South Pacific"

Rating: ★★★★

Location: Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road, Rosemont, (800) 745-300, rosemonttheatre.com or southpacificontour.com

Showtimes: 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 27 and 28; 2 p.m. Nov. 29

Running time: About 3 hours, with intermission

Tickets: $39.50-$79.50

Parking: Paid lot adjacent to theater

Rating: For teens and older