Could ‘South Pacific’ Dance Away With the Tonys?

Photo: Photo illustration: Joan Marcus; Courtesy of The American Theater Wing

It just might be hat-eating season on Broadway: First, Ben Brantley ate his in his unequivocal rave of the Patti LuPone revival of Gypsy after his dismissive review of that production's earlier City Center run. Now, Vulture may end up devouring a (sailor?) hat too: Last week, given the raves from Brantley et al for Gypsy, we declared that show pretty much unstoppable come Tony time. In the Best Revival category, the then-still-previewing revival of South Pacific, we said, was toast. Too lightweight, too sincere, too un-LuPone-y. Well, oopsies. Today's Brantley review of South Pacific is ecstatic beyond all our expectations and may change everything. Could South Pacific's chipper nurses, sailors, and Polynesian babes overwhelm the vaudeville and psychotherapy of Gypsy, as some have already suggested?

Blessed with dozens of Rodgers and Hammerstein songs that have helped defined the American songbook, South Pacific isn't fluff — it deals with war, racism, getting it on with the natives, etc. — but its sensibilities are certainly more old-fashioned and earnest than those of the dark, angsty Gypsy. Which isn't a bad thing come Tony time, necessarily. The Best Revival category, which was introduced in 1994, has a lot of examples of shows full of cockeyed optimism facing off against shows with a dark, morbid heart. 1997 and 1998 saw the triumph of sexy, cynical, dangerous Chicago and Cabaret. On the other hand, following years saw old-timey fare like Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate and 42nd Street prevailing.

Most intriguing, think back to 2006, when the sunny, adorable The Pajama Game — starring South Pacific's incredible Kelli O'Hara — defeated the misanthropic brilliance of Sweeney Todd, starring … Patti LuPone. Mmm, this hat looks delicious. -Justin Ravitz

Optimist Awash in the Tropics [NYT]
Beware, 'Gypsy' fans: Will a 'South Pacific' tsunami hit the Tonys? [Gold Derby/LAT]

Earlier: Will Everything Come Up Tony for ‘Gypsy’?