BWW Review: There is Nothin' Like SOUTH PACIFIC
Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan, Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener, Directed by David Hugo; Music Direction by Dan Rodriguez; Choreographer-Assistant Director, Rachel Bertone; Conductor, Jeffrey P. Leonard; Scenery, Prather Entertainment Group; Lighting Design, David Wilson; Costumes, Prather Entertainment Group and Kansas City Costumes; Technical Director, Lori E. Baruch; Production Stage Manager, Olivia Gemelli
CAST (in order of appearance): Katie Clark, Peter S. Adams, Eliza Zangerl, Jackson Daley, Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia, Lydia Gaston, Samantha Ma, Aaron Dore, Billy Goldstein, Danny Meglio, Mark Linehan, R. Glen Michell, Rich Allegretto, Tyler Stettler, Serge Clivio, Miles Petrie, David Groccia, Michael Anthony Russo, Aaron Michael Ray, Jonathan Pohl, Connor Colbert, Ari Jacobson, Ross Brown, Mia Aguirre, Lauren Eicher, Julianne Daly, Allsun O'Malley, Ali Rose Harton, Carly Jurman, Gillian Mariner Gordon, Adele Leikauskas, Lizzi Porcari, Brad Foster Reinking, Mara Wilson
Performances through June 22 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston, Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street, Waltham, MA; Box Office 781-891-5600 or www.ReagleMusicTheatre.com
Set sail for Reagle Music Theatre in Waltham for an enchanted evening at the sublime Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific. Winner of ten Tony Awards in 1949 and the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1950, it retains its relevance with themes of prejudice and two ill-fated love stories set against the backdrop of war in a far-off land. David Hugo, who directed last year's acclaimed Les Miserables, returns to direct Reagle's 46th Annual Summer Season opener and sets the bar high with a 19-piece live orchestra and an ensemble of Seabees and nurses that would make any navy proud.
Katie Clark (Ensign Nellie Forbush) and Peter S. Adams (Emile de Becque) give topnotch performances as the self-described hick from Little Rock, Arkansas, who enlisted to be exposed to a different world, and the expatriate Frenchman who left disillusionment behind when he found his island paradise. If it takes awhile for their romantic chemistry to gel, they waste no time in making the audience fall in love with them as soon as they open their mouths to sing. Clark is vibrant and joyful ("A Cockeyed Optimist") as Nellie explains her personal philosophy, while Adams uses his warm, resonant baritone to make Emile's case for grasping the moment ("Some Enchanted Evening").
Both characters ride an emotional roller coaster as the path of their love is filled with challenges, and R & H give them the opportunity to spill their feelings in songs. Realizing that she knows little about her mysterious beau, Nellie decides "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" with real soap and water in the makeshift shower and support from her fellow nurses. Moments later, she has reconsidered and, unabashed, Clark beams adorably as she belts out "A Wonderful Guy." Her considerable comedic and dance skills are on display in "Honey Bun" with Luther Billis, played with a mix of wise guy/wheeler dealer and softhearted good guy by Aaron Dore, and Clark shows her serious side in the dramatic finales of both acts.
Adams is a more cuddly figure than most actors known for playing de Becque, but his interpretation of the character is defined by its heart and exposes the struggles of the inner man. At times boyish and giddy, his playfulness is a reflection of Nellie's rejuvenating affect on him; but, when the affair crumbles, he projects darkness and despair in an emotionally powerful "This Nearly Was Mine." When the cultured gentleman of the first act becomes the jilted lover and mensch in act two, Adams convincingly conveys the changes in his character so that we are truly invested in what happens to him.
Broadway veteran Lydia Gaston brings spunk and an elfin quality to Bloody Mary, a local vendor who attempts to make American bucks by marketing exotic (shrunken heads) and not so exotic (grass skirts) souvenirs to the sailors. Gaston has terrific pipes, selling the magic and mystery in "Bali Ha'i" and the positive message of "Happy Talk." Of course, Mary also tries to command a good deal for her beautiful Tonkinese daughter Liat (Samantha Ma) by enticing Lt. Joseph Cable, USMC (Mark Linehan). Ma projects sweetness and innocence with coy expressions and lyrical dance moves. Linehan's first act vocals are mellow and wistful ("My Girl Back Home," "Younger Than Springtime"), but Cable is a tough character to decipher and Linehan's choices make him appear smug and stiff. However, he comes to life just as Cable's feverish bout with malaria breaks and finds the passion and revulsion needed to deliver "You've Got to be Carefully Taught."
Music Director Dan Rodriguez and Choreographer/Assistant Director Rachel Bertone bring out the best in the musical numbers, especially when the Seabees sing their ode to "Bloody Mary" and bemoan their lack of female companionship in "There is Nothin' Like a Dame." Conductor Jeffrey P. Leonard thrills us with the Overture and Entr'acte, but needs to lower the volume of the background music playing under the dialogue in some of the dramatic scenes. Otherwise, sound effects and David Wilson's lighting design add atmosphere to the evocative scenery and costumes (provided by Prather Entertainment Group and Kansas City Costumes). R. Glen Michell (Capt. Brackett) and Rich Allegretto (Cmdr. Harbison) deserve mention as the leadership team of the musical band of brothers.
South Pacific was last presented on the Reagle stage in 1989, well before the first Broadway revival in 2008 at Lincoln Center. With that multiple Tony Award-winning staging in the rearview mirror, Hugo steps up to put his imprint on this production and remind a new audience of the glory days of musical theater. They don't make 'em like this anymore, so book your passage to this very special island.
Photo credit: Herb Philpott (Peter S. Adams, Katie Clark)