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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Greg Sheri­dan

MU­SI­CAL the­atre came into my life by a cir­cuitous route. My wife is of In­dian back­ground and when we first mar­ried we watched a lot of Hindi movies with­out sub­ti­tles. All Hindi movies are mu­si­cals and I found that not only did I like the songs but, given their dance and ex­ag­ger­ated phys­i­cal ac­tion, I could fol­low them pretty well and un­der­stand how they ad­vanced the sto­ry­line. They say that once you un­der­stand a phi­los­o­phy you tend to be­lieve in it. Cer­tainly this is true of Hindi movies.

I have al­ways liked opera but purely for the mu­sic, al­most never for the story, al­though I find it hard to re­main dry-eyed at the poignant mo­ments of Tosca or Madama But­ter­fly.

See­ing South Pa­cific, with the in­com­pa­ra­ble Teddy Tahu Rhodes in the lead, re­minded me what a pow­er­ful form mu­si­cal the­atre can be. I heartily en­dorse the cult of this pro­duc­tion pre­sented by Opera Aus­tralia. But I want to en­ter a con­trar­ian caveat. I think it suc­ceeds as mu­sic much more than as the­atre, and for my money this is all due to Rhodes.

OA is to be con­grat­u­lated for oc­ca­sion­ally stag­ing a pop­u­lar mu­si­cal, and to be con­grat­u­lated ar­tis­ti­cally. With­out the opera’s in­volve­ment I would never have heard so melo­di­ous, fa­mil­iar and beloved a song as Some En­chanted Evening sung with any­thing like the power and beauty that Rhodes brought to it.

It is no dis­re­spect to the rest of the cast — and they were all good — to say they were blown off the stage by Rhodes’s ma­jes­tic voice. Any time he came on my in­ter­est quick­ened be­cause I knew he was go­ing to pro­duce some­thing mem­o­rable mu­si­cally. In fact I would have been happy if he had sung all the male parts, not­with­stand­ing that some of them were for higher voices and he is no tenor. What­ever the­atri­cal­ity and plot South Pa­cific con­tained were as noth­ing com­pared with Rhodes’s voice, though they made a good gift wrapping for it.

I hope Rhodes doesn’t take this the wrong way but I must con­fess that my mu­si­cal tastes are a lit­tle mid­dle­brow. I have a candy ear. For me, mu­sic is 70 per cent melody (the sweeter the bet­ter), 20 per cent char­ac­ter and 10 per cent rhythm. So for opera I like Verdi and Puc­cini, the most deliri­ous en­joy­ment I have at con­certs is pro­vided by Tchaikovsky, and if I see the ex­quis­ite Aus­tralian Cham­ber Or­ches­tra, I like the pro­gram to be mostly Mozart.

I re­spect and ad­mire jazz but some parts of it, from Dixie to con­tem­po­rary, can tend to have too much char­ac­ter and too lit­tle melody. But with my candy ear I can be very sus­cep­ti­ble to cer­tain types of mu­si­cal the­atre. Jersey Boys, which had a great run in sev­eral Aus­tralian cities, was splen­did. I saw it in Mel­bourne with good friends who were much higher brow than I am. They were in­clined to leave at the in­ter­val while I was ab­so­lutely lov­ing it.

It is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Sea­sons and I am old enough to have had im­pressed on my brain at a ten­der age ev­ery one of the Four Sea­sons’ hits. Be­cause it’s a show about a pop group there is ev­ery ex­cuse to per­form a big num­ber of their hits. And pop mu­sic, for all of its lim­i­ta­tions, is gen­er­ally ac­com­plished at catchy melody. As mu­si­cal the­atre I thought it bet­ter than South Pa­cific. It was not bet­ter as mu­sic, be­cause none of the Jersey Boys per­form­ers had any­thing like Rhodes’s power and majesty.

But as mu­si­cal the­atre it wove an en­gross­ing plot around the ca­reer and mar­i­tal dra­mas of the group and did enough to ad­vance this mod­est soap opera drama quite well be­tween the songs. South Pa­cific was more am­bi­tious in try­ing to make the mu­sic in­te­grally part of the plot, and its plot is more eth­i­cally wor­thy, be­ing a plea against ra­cial prej­u­dice.

But you see I al­ready hate racism, so in­struct­ing me on this point, though en­tirely wel­come, does not earn South Pa­cific any ex­tra points from me purely as en­ter­tain­ment.

Lisa McCune was en­gag­ing in South Pa­cific and is a splen­did ac­tress al­to­gether, but nei­ther her voice, nor any other, was in the same league as Rhodes’s. And fi­nally the songs of South Pa­cific, while fa­mil­iar, are mostly not all that good. Some En­chanted Evening and Younger than Spring­time are very, very lovely. But the oth­ers — There is Noth­ing like a Dame and I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair — are ir­ri­tat­ing in their fa­mil­iar­ity rather than be­guil­ing in their melody.

But if Rhodes had sung them, I might well think dif­fer­ently.

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