The Muny did one of them, "The King and I", last year. Now they're doing the other one, "South Pacific", in maybe the finest production of it I've ever seen.
And it's hard to believe that the same person who played the very Victorian English governess in "The King and I", Laura Michelle Kelly, is back on the Muny stage as the very American, and very Southern, Navy nurse Nellie Forbush. In Kelly's performance, you can see why she picked up the nickname Nucklehead Nellie. She is a cockeyed optimist, her enthusiams are all out in the open, and it's all part of her charm. The singing voice rings out as splendidly as it did last year. And if her accent is more generic southern than specifically Little Rock, Arkansas, she makes it work.
As the exiled French planter Emile de Becque, Ben Davis's accent also works. His singing too is splendid. And he's as romantic and chivalrous as he was a few weeks ago as Sir Galahad on the same stage, only this time it's for real, not for fun.
Josh Young matches him as the second, younger romantic male lead, Lieutenant Joseph Cable, with the doomed love for the lovely Polynesian Liat, the lovely Sumie Maeda. When Cable is baffled by his irrational racism that throws up a barrier between him and Liat, just as Nellie is by her reaction to Emile's mixed-race children, Young gives full vent to Cable's anger at his culture's narrow prejudices in the song “You've Got to Be Carefully Taught.” In it, Rodgers and Hammerstein make a 180 degree turn from popular culture's earlier images of comic Chinese and the Yellow Peril.
Loretta Ables Sayre combines real depth with shrewd comic comments, plus a wonderfully expressive voice, as Liat's mother, the local entrepreneur Bloody Mary. Tally Sessions has fun as her Seabee business rival and all-round opportunist Luther Billis, with Ryan Andes as his right-hand man. As the garrison's commander, James Anthony, and Michael James Reed as his right-hand man, bring a light touch to their authority.
Rob Ruggiero's direction clearly presents the story in the book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan, enriched by many subtle touches and by Ralph Perkins' choreography. Michael Schweikardt's scenery functions efficiently and, with John Lasiter's lighting, makes even The Muny's temperate zone trees look tropical. Nathan Scheuer designed the tropical skies on the LED screen, Nancy Missimi designed the costumes, Jason Krueger the sound, and musical director Brad Haak paced the show well.
"South Pacific" is great musical theatre, and The Muny has a great production.