Friday, February 08, 2008

Memo to the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization: How to Make South Pacific Live Again

Dear Messsrs and Messrettes Mary Rodgers, Ted Chapin,Estate Trustees, et all.

Wanting as much as any fan of the great R&H to see your upcoming revival of South Pacific succeed brilliantly, I have pondered how to make it work. While walking around Lake Merrit one morning here in Oakland, where I rent a one bedroom, I asked myself: what is the key to revival success for this soaring gem from 1949?

The answer came to me in a word: CONTEXT. You must do everything you can to take the theatregoer back to that period in American history. Here is how:

First of all, sorry to say, you you have booked your bet into the wrong house. Lincoln Center Theatre is way too modern a space. I urge you to break the lease, whatever it costs, and transfer to the quaint old Lyceum. Such a musty place, so wonderfully full of yesteryear's Broadway ghosts. Just stepping inside the place, you can almost imagine Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein lurking somewhere about.

Secondly, decorate, no, DRENCH the theatre in the imagery of the 1940s. Big band sounds upon entering. Photos of movie stars and theatre icons. Ushers dressed in the attire of the times. Purpose being to transport us back. The more we can be made to feel the era in which this melodic masterpiece was created, the better the chances are that we will connect emotionally to its central characters and themes. We've "got to be taught," yes -- all over again.

Third: Your production needs to honor the period, period. No Henry David Hwang deconstructions. No modernizing the subtext or transgenderizing the cast.

Now to the most critical challenge: Nellie Forbush. Not another sugar-dispensing Julie Andrews clone. Introduce your director to sound recordings and film footage of the late Mary Martin. Her soul was carved out of both sugar and spice. Give us a real female hick with downhome authenticity. This is the most daunting task you face.

End of Memo. Break a leg, big time...

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