REVIEW: “South Pacific in Concert” – voices warm as the tropics
And it wasn’t because we live in a tropical country.
The curtain opens to the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra, dignified in their seats, poised to begin playing with the waving of Maestro Rodel Colmenar’s stick. The overture begins with the changing of the projected images, the backdrop that conjures up images of the Pacific – the warmth of visuals and the slow and romantic melody of the music brings us to a picturesque beach, back when love was still portrayed with wide-eyed optimism. It’s the kind that makes you want to be transported in a different era when commercialism and technology haven’t played a starring role in our lives. The music was sweeping in its grandeur, and shines like the sun on stage.
Just when you think it can’t get any warmer, Jon Meer Vera Perez as Emile de Becque and Joanna Ampil as Nellie Forbush enter. And though it suffered a few technical hiccups at the beginning, Joanna’s Nellie became the brilliance and the heat that emanated on stage.
Such was the beginnings of South Pacific in Concert. Directed by the much-esteemed First Lady of Philippine Theater, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, the staging of the beloved 1949 musical was a success beyond measure. It was every bit worthy of the combined talent on and off stage.
South Pacific is a musical composed by Richard Rodgers with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. It was based from the 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Tales of the South Pacific” written by James A. Michener.
As any timeless story goes, this is a tale of love and acceptance. Using the World War II as the background, South Pacific tells the story of the love between French plantation owner, Emile de Becque and US Navy Nurse Ensign Nellie Forbush. The story is set on a South Pacific Island and uncovers themes that were controversial at their time – racism. It was a recurring subject throughout the story: Nellie’s surprise and lack of acceptance which were the cause of the eventual falling-out with Emile after finding out that he is the father of two half-Polynesian children; Lt. Cable’s love overshadowed by his prejudice against Pacific Islanders, when he refused to marry Liat. This theme, however present to a certain extent these days, has become quite dated. But no matter, the overall message of love, as well as the music that accompanied the story, is enough to make it timeless. Love will always be relevant, and it triumphed at the end of the play.
Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo’s direction was a delight. Each performer never skipped a beat, everyone was in perfect sync and aware of what was going on around them at all times. Even with the technical glitches at the beginning, and some occasional hiccups throughout the play (cracking static from the microphone), everyone continued on. They paid no mind to the issues, and as a result, the audience went along for the ride.
Joanna Ampil was brilliant on stage. Bringing with her a wealth of experience, she was the perfect Ensign Forbush – in love yet in conflict with what she has been raised to believe in. The changes in her facial expression and the luster in her eyes communicated more than the play itself did. Her voice was flawless – not only was each note executed at perfect pitch, but it also communicated all the emotions a person in her situation would.
Jon Meer Vera Perez’s singing voice was awe-inspiring. The timbre of his voice expressed masculinity, valiance and honor. If there’s any point for improvement, it would perhaps be his French accent. This was a minor detail, and quite understandable as clarity and enunciation are given more importance.
Ima Castro, who played Bloody Mary, was very loveable yet formidable. Her voice was magnificent as ever, and her Tonkinese accent was on point. Mark Bautista is proving himself to be a force to be reckoned with in the Philippine Theater scene. Gone was his pop star image, and in its place was man who was clearly comfortable with his classics.
The ensemble cast was wonderful as a group, each equally contributing to the glory seen on stage. Special mention must be given to Red Concepcion who was such a darling and gracious performer, always providing a wonderfully-timed comic relief – complementing the cast, and never hogging the spotlight.
South Pacific in Concert is a breath of warm Pacific air that you will always bring with you as a treasured memory. It is a shame that we are only given two shows to view it.
For those who haven’t seen it, South Pacific in Concert is still showing on September 19, 2015 at the Newport Performing Arts Theater in Resorts World.
Have you seen the show? What did you think?