Nearly 50 years after it premiered on Broadway (and 40 years after the immensely popular big-screen version), "South Pacific" still packs a powerful message about racial intolerance.
Given the somewhat limited confines of the Rodgers Memorial Theatre's small thrust stage and equally limited scenery options, director Mikael Bailey has focused instead on the production's strong characterizations - bittersweet romances, two "carefully taught" Americans suddenly confronted by racial differences and a pacifist French plantation owner deciding whether to get involved in World War II following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.The score contains some of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most memorable music: "Some Enchanted Evening," "There Is Nothing Like a Dame," "A Cockeyed Optimist," "Younger Than Springtime" and "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught."
The lusty cavorting by a company of lonely Seabees in a remote South Pacific island and the frolicking of the winsome nurses assigned to the hospital at the base are merely the icing. But underneath, there is much more substance. Anyone who's seen the hundreds of names inscribed on the USS Arizona Memorial in the middle of Pearl Harbor or the rows and rows of silent white crosses in nearby Punchbowl Cemetery, knows there was more to the war in the vast Pacific than sexy nurses singing "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair" and Navy crews yearning to visit "Bali Ha'i."
Bailey is fortunate to have some exceptional talent for this production's leading roles.
The ensemble I caught on Monday night included Steve Evans, perfectly cast as Emile de Becque, the Frenchman with a mysterious past; Diane Elmer as Ensign Nellie Forbush, whose Little Rock, Ark., upbringing clashes with the tropical island's blended culture; David Marsden nicely cast as Luther Billis; Dave Peterson, giving a particularly emotion-filled performance as Lt. Joseph Cable; Ginger Spencer as the feisty Bloody Mary; Becky Evans (Steve's daughter) as Liat, Bloody Mary's young daughter, and Bob Walkingshaw as Capt. George Brackett.
Kate Beckstrand and Michael Hadly steal a few scenes of their own as Ngana and Eteine, de Becque's young daughter and son.
With 19 scene changes and several different locales, this is a difficult show for a theater the size of the Rodgers Memorial, but Bailey's technical team carry it off beautifully. Kudos to choreographer Sherrie Rampton, scenery artist Dorian Vandegrift, costumer NaConna Millward and lighting designer Wil VanderMeyden (spotlighting of the island of Bali Ha'i while the rest of the backdrop was bathed in red light was reminiscent of the 1958 movie version, in which Joshua Logan experimented with some unusual color techniques).
The only drawback is that the stage is just too small for the ensemble dance sequences.
Scene changes were fairly smooth and the sound, for the most part, was crisp and clear. Music director John Morgan's orchestrations were pretaped by Kevin and Narlene Mathie at East Lake Studios. There are pros and cons to using a taped musical score, but, for a small theater, it provides a fuller, richer sound than merely a piano and drums.
- THE ALTERNATE CAST includes Larry Nelson, Mary Jo Eisenbraum, Mary Beth Wynder, Amanda Morgan, Ed Farnsworth, Jared Morgan and Dale Yates.