South Pacific in San Francisco

I had lunch with mother today at the restaurant in Nordstrom's which is about as perfect a place as one could wish to lunch with their mother on a Saturday afternoon in downtown San Francisco unless you want to dine in Neiman's Rotunda, which just seems too forced to me.  My mother was downtown to buy make-up.  We discussed our jobs, pets, the shape of things to come and the past weekend over dishes served with fries and a special dipping sauce which was tasty but probably loaded with things I wouldn't want to know about while we looked out at the view surrounding the Powell Street Cable Car turnaround. I could see the windows of my apartment from where I sat, which made everything seem slightly more delicious. During the converation I told ma mere I had seen the revival of South Pacific the previous night, which she was suitably unimpressed by. It seems she's waiting for Oklahoma! or something else like that. She's a tough cookie. That must be why people like her, but I think my mother's charms rest elsewhere.

Last night as I walked by the downtown Hilton on my way to meet The Minister's Rebellious Daughter at First Crush for pre-performance bourbons and snacks, I thought about the impression this neighborhood can make upon the average tourist from quieter parts (they are easily identified). There was a pretty blonde of a certain age leaning against a pillar that she seemed to want to melt in to. Her face bore an expression of extreme apprehension. I looked about to see what could cause her such discomfort and it was readily apparent. Sometimes I genuinely feel sorry for tourists in this town- there are just so many low-lifes and losers hassling people incessantly.

The Minister's Daughter was there when I arrived, comfortably esconced at the bar between two uptight, fussily dressed queens (bow-tie? seriously?) and a threesome that was another two rounds of drinks away from happening. We ordered apps and Manhattans, then another round of drinks. The queens seemed to exhibit a notable discomfort while I related a last weekend's Sapphic free-for-all at La Cita to the Minister's Daughter, which pleased me to no end since they refused to yield the seat that was being held for me. They really had nothing to say to one another so they were obviously eavesdropping on our conversation.

Finished  with our pre-performance sustenance, we made our way through two blocks of human excrement to the Golden Gate Theater. It should be noted this theater is a dump and an embarrassment. Broken windows can be seen from the facade and the interior isn't much better. As it was an unusually hot day in the City, the entire place smelled rank and nasty like a gymnasium, causing one to notice more than one normally would that the place is a pit in need of serious refurbishment. This is the largest theater in San Francisco for touring plays? Shorenstein Company, you need to clean this place up- it's a capacious shit-hole.

As we took our seats, the Minister's Daughter admonished those seated around us to behave themselves during the performance. Unfortunately, the dish to my left took her too seriously and I was disappointed when she didn't join in on "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair." In her little B & W dress and boots I have to confess I would have liked that.  The woman behind us (Mezzanine row E, seat 8) was completely annoying, laughing and giggling at practically everything- lady, you need something you aren't going to find in a theater- may I politely suggest this?

The scrim covering the stage featured words from James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific, from which the book of the play originated, set the tone for what was to follow. This multi-Tony award winning revival, directed by Bartlett Sher, has depth and delivers a completely satisfying evening of distinctly American theater. Sixty years after its premier on Broadway, this amazingly structured play still has a lot to say to contemporary audiences.

If you haven't seen South Pacific before, or have only only seen the 1958 film, you may surprised by how relevant the play is to the here and now. The brilliance of this production rests in its ability to bring out the deeper nuances of the story and the music without ever becoming a morality lesson or an exercise in nostalgia. Conflicts about race, responsibility and alienation are present throughout.

The sophistication and depth of Rodgers and Hammerstein's work are fully evident here and this production includes music and dialogue not seen or heard since the 1949 Broadway premiere. Featuring a twenty-five piece orchestra, vibrant sets, great choreography and a terrific cast, it's almost too much for just one viewing and could easily reward repeat visits. I plan on seeing it again because there are a lot subtleties in this staging and music.

Rod Gilfry (Emile de Becque), familiar to San Francisco Opera audiences, and Carmen Cusack (Nellie Forbush) lead a solid cast.  Gilfry's portrayal of de Becque conveys the character's conflicts and strengths through his voice and his body language. Gilfry has always been a singer who can act, and it pays off handsomely here. Unfortunately his booming bass-baritone was over-miked on the first night, which magnified his dominance over the rest of the cast. Gilfry probably doesn't need a microphone at all to make himself heard in this theater, so the crew ought to fix this one problem element of the show. But that's really the only negative thing I could say about the production. Gilfry sang "Some Enchanted Evening" beautifully, conveying the song's longing, and made "This Nearly Was Mine" riveting. If he decides to leave the world of opera, which I hope he doesn't, Gilfry could have a terrific career on Broadway.

Cusack's Nellie hits just the right combination of adhering to the original era of the play and infusing it with a contemporary sensibility. She's as much a woman of our time as she is from World War II- a neat trick that's brought home when she confronts her own racism. Cusack's voice is bright and she has an onstage presence that captures the audience without ever becoming overtly theatrical. "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" was naturally a delightful, well-choreographed highlight, as was the final reprise of "Some Enchanted Evening."

Anderson Davis' turn as Lt. Joseph Cable is also rewarding, conveying the conflict of an educated man out of his element. Matthew Saldivar's Billis led the Seabees  through a rowdy "There's Nothing Like a Dame" with comedic gusto that was possibly my personal favorite moment of the night.  Keala Settle wasn't a spicy Bloody Mary, but she sang "Bali Ha'i" well and gave her character a poignant depth that left a deep impression.  Christina Carrera and CJ Palma were delightful as de Becque's children, Ngana and Jerome and the rest of the cast doesn't contain a single weak link.  The sets by Michael Yeargan provided a perfect setting for every scene.

It will play at the tired and run-down Golden Gate theater through October 25th before hitting the road for the next year. You'd be foolish to miss it.

After the show, the Minister's Daughter and I walked through the new Tenderloin "Arts District" which seems to be delineated chiefly by "arty" new crosswalks outside of the 21 Club (one of SF's greatest bars, but seriously downscale- the owner's name is Frank- introduce yourself and you are sure to have a great time- at least until you leave shitfaced and have to deal with all the scum @ Turk and Taylor). Now, when the cops take a picture of a sprawled, bleeding body at downtown's most notorious corner there will be an attractive new backdrop in the photo courtesy of Gavin Newsom and whoever else is behind this Quixotic idea.

Feeling hungry, we grabbed some pizza at Milan on Geary, some Stella on Sutter and discussed this amazing revival and local goings-on, including Malia Cohen's run for Sophie Maxwell's supervisor seat (which you will hear a lot more about on this blog since I adore Malia Cohen) before it was time to go home.