BWW Review: Plan a trip to see Weathervane's SOUTH PACIFIC
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's musical SOUTH PACIFIC produced such Broadway standards as Some Enchanted Evening, There Is Nothing Like A Dame and I Am Going To Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair and won 10 Tony Awards when it debuted on Broadway. However, not everyone considered the musical to be a "beloved masterpiece" when it first came out in 1948.
Several critics objected to Hammerstein and Rodger's handling of the sensitive subject of racial prejudice in post-World War II America. Several critics objected to the inclusion of the song You've Got To Be Carefully Taught, which deals with how children are often held captive to their parents' fears and prejudice, in the musical.
Under the direction of Valerie Accetta, the Weathervane Playhouse's revival of the musical is a reminder that a controversial message inserted in with a slew of classic songs can send out a powerful message. The two-act musical, which opened June 29 and concludes July 8 at the Weathervane Playhouse (100 Price Road in Newark), still provides a strong message over 60 years after its debut.
Whitney Noelle (Ensign Nellie Forbush) and Ian Short (Emile de Becque) anchor the show. Forbush is assigned to a military outpost in the Solomon Islands where she is wooed by de Becque, a French expatriate. Forbush is swept off her feet by the Frenchman until she finds out he has two children from a Polynesian woman, who is now deceased. Forbush believes de Becque's children might never be accepted by white America and quickly breaks off the relationship.
Noelle pulls off the perky Southern nurse perfectly and her beautiful mezzo-soprano voice adds energy to A Cockeyed Optimist and I Am Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair and believes beautifully with Short in This Is How It Feels. Short fleshes out the de Becque character as a man who is hopelessly in love with someone to the point where he overlooks her flaws and still pursues her after her rejection of his children.
Critic Richard Butler once wrote of SOUTH PACIFIC "if one young person has a prejudice, it might be a character flaw; if two young people share a prejudice, it tells us something about the society in which they grew up." To show that prejudice wasn't just a mindset of the South, Hammerstein and Rodgers included a secondary plot of Lt. Joseph Cable (played by Colin Robertson) and Liat, a Polynesian girl (Amy Keum). Although the two have a whirlwind romance, Cable breaks it off because the norms of society wouldn't allow him to marry someone outside of his race.
Robertson shows his character's enlightenment when he realizes his mistake in the song You've Got To Be Carefully Taught. His chilling delivery of the lines: "You've got to be taught before it's too late/Before you are six or seven or eight. To hate all the people your relatives hate" is one of the highlights of the second act. David Epstein shines as Luther Billis, whose misadventures provide the comic relief to the serious themes of the play.
One of the nice features was music director Bruce Piper's decision to use just two pianists in the production. Piper and Sarah Ramsey's steady fingers on the keyboards allowed this great ensemble cast to deliver the message without being drowned out by the orchestration.
Weathervane's offering of SOUTH PACIFIC doesn't just offer its audience an "enchanted evening" but hopefully gives them a lot of food for thought for the months to come.
Final performances for SOUTH PACIFIC are 8 p.m. July 4-8 at the Weathervane Playhouse (100 Price Road in Newark). Call 740-366-4616 for ticket information.