“South Pacific” at Ahmanson Theatre

South Pacific
Ahmanson Theatre



Okay, sorry. I STILL brake for South Pacific, one of my least favorite terminally sappy Amur-kin musicals by those overrated corny-as-Kansas-in-August guys Dick and Oscar.

See, it’s always seemed to me that Oklahoma in the middle of the fun 'n games of World War II is just inappropriate. And when Act One of this multi-award winning Lincoln Center mounting of M.A.S.H.-meets-State Fair, now playing at the Ahmanson, ended just before 10pm on opening night, showing us all just how much the creators thought of themselves by 1949, my butt felt as if I'd been on a Southwest mini-jet for about 12 hours.

Still and granted, this revival is beautifully realized, especially the Intiman Theatre’s visionary director Bartlett Sher’s always crisp and incredibly striking signature staging that has in the past energized such theatrical treats as Light in the Piazza and Nickel and Dimed—and surely the well-heeled contributions of Michael Yeargam’s sweepingly versatile tropical set designs, Donald Holder’s sultry lighting, and Christopher Gattelli’s whimsical choreography are all top drawer.


There are also some excellent performances here, particularly Rod Gilfry, a mainstay for so long at the LA Opera, as transplanted French plantation owner Emile de Becque. In a role traditionally bowing to stereotypical proven choices, usually ringing of pure Ezio Pinza (who created the role a half-century ago on Broadway), Gilfry is a standout on his own, offering not only a memorable “Some Enchanted Evening” and a heartrending “This Nearly Was Mine,” but giving Ensign Nellie Forbush from Small Rock a real reason for falling in love with a more mature man even if he didn’t already live a lavish lifestyle to which she readily admits would be easy to become accustomed.

Carmen Cusack’s Nellie is a bit more conventional in its execution, but still she is fine, just not particularly inspired. Keala Settle is a wonderful Bloody Mary, even though her singing voice is not quite as rich and dynamic as some of her predecessors, and the lively supporting cast of GI Joes and Janes is uniformly excellent, with a particular shoutout to John Pinto Jr. as the smallest, most sincerely joyful, and continually “present” soldier in the entire squadron.


And as much as I have always desperately disliked South Pacific, I must admit Act Two did get me this time ‘round, thanks mainly to Anderson Davis as poor doomed Lt. Cable singing “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” perhaps R & H's most important song—and an historic precursor to Mr. Rodgers’ best work post-Hammerstein, No Strings. It’s just sad we have to sit through people washing men out of their hair and suffering all the wincingly non-PC taunting of poor ol' Bloody Mary to get there.

South Pacific plays through July 17 at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 S. N. Grand Av. in the LA Music Center; for tickets, call 213.972.4400 or visit www.centertheatregroup.org

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com