South Pacific | 11.09.10-11.21.10

“To appreciate the lyrics in a truthful, realistic way,” he says, “people need to hear them back in the context of plot. People have sort of been inured to where they come from.”


The Lincoln Center Theater production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific that dominated the 2008 Tony Awards is coming to the Fox Theater. Based on the James Michener book Tales of the South Pacific, the play chronicles the lives of soldiers and local residents of an island in the South Pacific during World War II.

Larry Goldberg, the conductor for the company, is a life-long veteran of Broadway and national tours, but this is the first time he has ever worked on South Pacific. In a recent phone interview, Goldberg discussed his role as conductor, the challenges involved with performing a revival show and his unique connection to St. Louis.

Goldberg joined the company in September of 2009 for the opening tour in San Francisco. Early in the process he was involved with teaching the cast members how to sing, but since the show went on the road he has spent the majority of his time with the orchestras.

This production of South Pacific calls for 25 musicians in the orchestra pit. Goldberg has three full-time players who travel with the show from city to city; the other 22 are hired by local contract agencies. When asked about this process, Goldberg pointed out that he rarely has any contact with musicians or contractors until shortly before the opening.

“The local contractors are employed by the theater,” he explains. “The contractor chooses the musicians in advance. My first involvement is about two to three weeks prior to arrival. I send the music to the contractor, who then sends it to the musicians so they can practice.”

In the case of St. Louis, Goldberg will not arrive here until Monday, Nov. 8. The next day, at 10 a.m., he will conduct a four-hour rehearsal—the first face-to-face contact he will have with the orchestra. The show will open that night at 8 p.m. It is a testament to the skill of the musicians, the ability of the contractors to fit them to the shows and to Goldberg himself, that a single four-hour rehearsal is sufficient to this seemingly monumental task.

“I typically find that it takes until the weekend of the first week for the orchestra to really know the show,” he says. “[Although,] during those first four or five performances, it’s not that anyone in the audience would even know there is a problem.”

Another challenge facing Goldberg stems from South Pacific’s iconic place in the canon of American musical theater.

“Yeah, I do find with a show like this—it’s been around so long, and it’s a classic— that they [the musicians] do come in thinking they know the music,” he explains. His job, then, when faced with experienced musicians who have distinct ideas about the score, is to bring “freshness and a sort of creativity” to the project. In the case of this particular show, he has help in that endeavor from the director, Bartlett Sher.

“This show is refreshingly directed,” says Goldberg. “It’s very, very truthful.” Sher, whose direction of the show has won near-universal acclaim, has chosen to restore original dialogue to the production, including lines thought too edgy or controversial for the original Broadway run over 60 years ago.

Goldberg emphasized this point when asked what he would say to theater fans who have seen South Pacific before, and who might be wondering why they should see this particular revival. In addition to having the chance to see a performance with the original script restored, fans will appreciate the chance to hear all the songs they know within the context of the story. “To appreciate the lyrics in a truthful, realistic way,” he begins, “people need to hear them back in the context of plot. People have sort of been inured to where they come from.”

Goldberg also discussed the unique motivational challenges that come with conducting the same piece every day for two weeks or more. “I think everyone in the orchestra, and sometimes even the cast, comes in to work with things on their mind," he says. "There’s lots to deal with, living out of a suitcase, on the road. . . we all have to get our minds out of the daily grind and into the world of play. I think of myself as sort of the point man for that. It’s my responsibility to inspire everyone to be fully in the world of the play.”

Fortunately for Goldberg and for audiences coming to the Fox over the next two weeks, St. Louis holds a particular inspirational claim on him. In 1991, he was part of a touring company for the show Cats. His future wife was in the show as a cast member, but after the first few shows he had only seen her in her costume. Then one day, he was standing outside his hotel downtown, looking at the Gateway Arch. He noticed her standing outside the hotel; it was the first time he’d seen her in street clothes. Goldberg fell in love then and there, and the two were married a few years later. Needless to say, the couple have a soft spot for St. Louis in their hearts, and they enjoy visiting the Arch and downtown whenever they have the chance. | Stephen Fairbanks

Opening night for South Pacific is Tuesday, Nov. 9. Performances run Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., with special show times on Sunday, Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m. and Thursday, Nov. 18 at 1 p.m. Tickets are still available, and may be purchased at Metrotix.  

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