Paige Hallett certainly fulfilled her role as leading lady Nellie Forbush aka Knucklehead Nellie, in the Gilbert and Sullivan production of South Pacific that opened last night.

 Hallett had a huge stage presence and a very convincing Southern Belle accent — even when she was trying to speak French. She has music and theatre in her blood and it shows. One particularly strong performance was her rendition of Wonderful Guy, every line she sang was packed with personality.

All the leading roles were strong thanks to excellent casting — Robbie Godfrey as the racist turned love struck Lt Joseph Cable, Alexander Rosati as the loveable, puppy-like Seabee Luther Billis, Mark Hamilton as the charming Emile de Becque and Will Kempe as the non singing,overbearing military commander. The children brought life to the show, particularly Emile’s children Ngana (Vidya Cannonier-Watson) and Jerome (Onuri Smith).

Set in World War II South Pacific follows the lives of civilian and military personnel in the exotic Solomon Island chain. Racial prejudices are addressed through the love stories of Nellie and Emile as well as Lt Cable and Liat. Ultimately love triumphs in this heart-warming tale.

The plot of the musical can be a little ropey — we never truly find out why one leading character killed a man and is so easily forgiven. And, no sooner had Emile and Nellie met, they are talking children and marriage. 

The songs are its real strength, Happy Talk, There’s Nothin’ Like a Dame, Dites Moi, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair and, my favourite, the enchanting and mesmerizing Bali Ha’i — beautifully executed by Joy T Barnum (Bloody Mary).

Rambunctious 

Barnum did a fantastic job in her debut theatre performance and the crowd loved her. She got one of the loudest applauds of the evening. 

The rambunctious Bloody Mary is an extremely challenging character, not one you would give a novice without having faith she could fill the boots and she did. Occasionally the Tonkinese accent seemed to err on Caribbean which wasn’t helped by her Cap’n Jack Sparra-esque appearance. But it was all about her delivery and timing. 

None of the love songs in South Pacific really struck a chord with me, like Some Enchanting Evening which is repeatedly sung throughout the show.

I attended on the invited audience showing, there is a little less pressure on the cast and crew than the real opening night and it did show. Hopefully the sailors will manage to come in on time for Nothing Like A Dame chorus. After these are ironed out, director Jenny Sawyer will hopefully be happy with the show.

There were some technical hiccups with the equipment that was especially rented from Great Sound. Mics cut out in the second half and there were a few sound problems which was particularly unfortunate for the first verse of Happy Talk when the little ones were singing their hearts out. Luckily the problem was resolved quickly and we could enjoy the rest of the song. 

Musical director Phillip Shute should be commended, his piano work was consistent and cleverly reflected the moods and decorated the narrative. At best it was rousing.

Cleo Pettitt, yet again, did a fantastic job with the set — evoking the tropical island paradise simply yet effectively. It was clear that the budget wasn’t as substantial as for G&S’s previous production The Producers. There was no comparison to those lavish sets but Petitt did everything she could with what she was given. The only criticism would be the inexplicable abstract mesh of colours painted on the back of the ‘stage within a stage’ for the Thanksgiving show. While main backdrop never changed, the lighting by Andy Vere did a lot to show the different times of day and changing moods of the play.