Two very different antipodean cultural treasures will share the stage this month, when Logie Award-winning actress Lisa McCune stars opposite ARIA-winning opera pin-up Teddy Tahu Rhodes, in a local reworking of the Lincoln Centre Theatre’s wildly successful production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific.
It’s all part of artistic director Lyndon Terracini’s plan to increase Opera Australia’s populist appeal – with a little help, in this case, from local superstar producer John Frost (Wicked), who teamed up with OA to import Bartlett Sher’s Tony Award-winning New York production.
Culture clash is both the theme and MO of South Pacific: set on a South Pacific island during World War II, it’s a story of cultural rapprochement between Americans, native Polynesians and French colonialists, with the romantic drama hinging on racial prejudice.
It also traditionally features an operatic bass or baritone in the male lead, making it uniquely apt for Terracini’s plans to introduce Sydney’s musical theatre audiences to the charms of contemporary opera.
Most recently seen in black leather Y-fronts and thigh-highs in Opera Australia’s Don Giovanni, Rhodes will be dialling down the bad boy sex appeal to play chivalrous French plantation owner Emile de Becque, who falls in love with young Arkansas-born nurse Nellie Forbush (played by McCune).
Rhodes, who saw the production in New York, says, “It's just a wonderful night at the theatre; you can immerse yourself – there's joy, there's sadness. It brought me to tears. I didn't think it would, but I found myself in the darkness of the theatre trying to rub the tears away from my eyes.”
McCune, whose considerable experience in musical theatre includes Frost’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, Guys & Dolls and Cabaret, hadn’t encountered South Pacific until now. “To discover it with really fresh eyes is lovely,” she says. “It's a very special piece; I've been overwhelmed by how special it is – it has great beauty.
“I'm loving working with Teddy,” she adds. “It's fascinating. There's a collision of people from so many different places on Earth for this show, and different backgrounds and different musical histories, and it works so well, because that's exactly what this island was during the war: this collection of very different people.”
More: South Pacific plays Sydney Opera House 11 Aug-9 Sep.