Sweeping musical South Pacific has been reinvented and taken back to its controversial roots. Katy Wheeler spoke to prolific West End actor Matthew Cammelle about becoming suave Frenchman Emile de Becque.
AS stage revivals go, they don’t come much bigger than this one.
The current lavish production of South Pacific from the Lincoln Center Theater has reinvented the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, picking up awards left, right and centre and playing to sold-out audiences on Broadway and in the West End.
From May 1, as part of its UK tour, the cast and live orchestra of more than 50 will roll into Sunderland for two weeks.
So will Wearside audiences be impressed by this much-hyped show?
Leading man Matthew Cammelle thinks so.
He plays the role of French plantation owner Emile de Becque, who is living in a U.S. Naval base in the South Pacific where cultures are colliding.
Matthew says this production’s emphasis on themes, which can be difficult to explore via the medium of musical, is key to its success.
“It’s possibly a bit darker than other productions,” he explained. “The themes of the musical are very serious and this production addresses them without shying away from them, such as race and war.
“Which are themes that are still pertinent today.
“It was very ahead of its times when it was written and is a very grown-up musical. I think productions in the past seem to have glossed over some of the issues.”
This is the latest in a long line of playing household name characters for Matthew. In his career in the spotlight, which has spanned two decades, Matthew has played the Phantom and Raoul in Phantom of the Opera, the Beast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Marius and Enjolras in Les Miserables, Harry Bright in Mamma Mia and many more.
So what attracted him to this latest character?
“I auditioned for the role and got the job. Like any jobbing actor you audition for any role going, but Emile is a really interesting character to play,” he said.
“He’s very complex, but as I get older it’s nice to play roles which have more meat to them.
“Obviously it’s a romantic role, but he has got more depth to him than your average role.”
Matthew has been appearing alongside former Eastenders actress Sam Womack in previous shows, however, Rebecca Thornhill will play the role of his love interest Nellie Forbush for the Sunderland leg of the tour.
“It’s a challenging role, but it’s fantastic to play opposite Sam Womack and bounce off her as she is a great actress,” said Matthew.
“It is a very old-school musical with a well-written story, well-rounded characters and an incredible score. Without wanting to sound cliched, it really does have hit after hit after hit.”
The score – which includes Some Enchanted Evening, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair and There is Nothin’ Like a Dame – is another element which seems to have rendered this musical a timeless classic.
The show will also be a return to an old stomping ground for Matthew who has appeared at the Empire many times in his career.
“Last time I was in Sunderland was about four or five years ago playing the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, a very different role.
“I’ve played many characters over the years, but Phantom stands out. I’ve been in the business 21 years and when I started out I don’t think I had any concept that I would get to play a role like that.
“But this role too is an absolute gift. I’m loving it. It’s being very well received by the critics and the audience seem to be loving it too.”
l South Pacific is at the Sunderland Empire from May 1- May 12. For tickets, priced £14.50-£42.50, Tel. 0844 871 3022.