People are falling in love with St. Petersburg Opera’s production of South Pacific – currently running at the Palladium through July 10. Friends who attended shows over the July 4th weekend were gushing about the production, the singing, and, of course, the songs. Few shows in the history of musical theater can boast as many great songs as South Pacific. For me, it’s Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best work.
I also heard enthusiastic reviews from some female patrons for the chorus line of buff, shirtless sailors!
One big fan of this SPO production is TBTimes critic Andrew Meacham, who had nothing but good things to say about the cast, the orchestra, and the production. You can read his review in the Times by following this link.
I’m publishing an excerpt of the review today in the blog. A link for tickets and information appears at the end of this item. Tickets are going fast for the remaining four shows, so don’t wait to book your trip to SPO’s South Pacific.
By Andrew Meacham
Tampa Bay Times
The St. Petersburg Opera Company again closes its season with a musical, this time running two weeks. The extra week for South Pacific anticipates healthy crowds at the Palladium, but also does justice to a serious production.
The show allowed me to indulge long-standing curiosities about the acting potential of opera singers and the singing versatility of musical performers. South Pacific shows there are plenty of performers who can do both, including local St. Petersburg talent Todd W. Donovan, who plays Emile de Becque. All of the principals have experience in musical theater and opera. The difference between this show and a South Pacific you might expect to see at a traditional venue for musicals seems pretty clear cut.
In this one, as in most operas, the bias favors the music. That is what the audience has a right to expect going in, and it is why this production satisfies.
The production directed by Zetta Alderman has made every effort to keep the pace lively, the choreography sharp and the moving parts synchronizing with ease. Conductor Mark Sforzini directs a large orchestra at the top of the stage, establishing during the overture that music will take a top priority. By the time the lights dim, the seduction has set in.
Forbush and de Becque hint of their strengths early with the duet, Twin Soliloquies. The South Pacific you knew and loved officially gets into gear in the next number, de Becque’s Some Enchanted Evening. Donovan’s rich bass-baritone voice thrills with a control and a discipline that goes well beyond most Broadway shows passing through the Tampa Bay area.
Carla Lopez-Speziale soon follows as Bloody Mary, delivering the strongest character portrayal of the show, from Bali Ha’i onward. The bow-legged hobbling around the stage seems a bit much at first. But then you forget about all of that and just watch her and listen to her. Lopez-Speziale doesn’t give you a choice.
John Kaneklides also earns high marks for his performance as Marine Lt. Joseph Cable, who is torn between his love for Bloody Mary’s daughter and his fear of interracial marriage. His stage presence and haunting tenor delivery are a cornerstone of this production.
St. Petersburg Opera did its best to fill the most important spots in a multifaceted musical with professionals, including Ward Smith as the high-strung (and nonsinging) Capt. Brackett. Shout-outs must also go to Jessica Fiala Hall, who played Ensign Connie Walewska and led the dancers, and Tyler Putnam, who adds a comical dimension and a strong voice as Luther Billis. Both men’s and women’s choruses provide a rock solid floor, evident in such songs as There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame, and I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair.
Some talky sequences bog the show down a bit, including some spy-mission, wartime stuff in the second act. Every time the show gets stuck in the sand, Donovan is there to pull it back out. He did so magnificently in his last solo, This Nearly Was Mine, drawing sustained applause.
For tickets and information follow this link to the Palladium box office.