BWW Reviews: SOUTH PACIFIC in New Canaan
It's not just Bali Ha'i that will call you. It's Roger's and Hammerstein's South Pacific. This is a show that's hard to get wrong, b because everyone loves the book and the music. But director Allegra Libonati did all the right things to make this production a must-see at the Summer Theatre of New Canaan.
Lest you think that this is just an amateur production presented in a tent, then you jumped head first to the wrong conclusions. For starters, Libonati chose an exceptional cast, notably Tiffan Borelli as Ensign Nellie Forsbush), Daniel Klein as Emile de Becque, Janelle A. Robinson as Bloody Mary, Jason Michael Evans as Lt. Joseph Cable, Nick Reynolds as Luther Billis, and Kim Wong as Liat. (Several cast members are members of Actors Equity Association.) Then there is Julia Noulin-Mérat's brilliant set design, which included steps that Libonati used very effectively regardless of the scene. It was simple, but certainly evoked the impressiveness of de Becque's plantation, the simplicity of the naval base and office, the streets, and a house of ill-repute. Part of the back tenting was open, and the lush trees of Waveny Park enhanced the set. Sara Cogan's costumes were faultless, as was David Hancock Turner's musical direction (with a 10-piece orchestra that included wind, brass and bowed instruments).
The message of book is still relevant. By coincidence, the show opened Summer Theatre of New Canaan's 10th season just as Paula Deen's show was cancelled because of her racist slur. How timely is that?
Borelli, who previously played Ensign Janet Macgregor at the Maine State Music Theatre's production of South Pacific, was born to play Nellie. A native of Oklahoma, she got the Arkansas accent right, but what was more impressive was that she nailed the retro style look and subtle mannerisms of the era. She is also a first-rate singer. Klein, an opera singer, has a smooth voice smooth and movements that are perfect for musical theatre. Robinson was the most likeable Bloody Mary this critic has ever seen. Evans, as Cable, projected the right bearing as a Princeton WASP who is struggling to break out of his social prison. (Next stop: A.R. Gurney's [fill in the blank]!) He and Wong had good chemistry as the ill-fated lovers. Reynolds was funny and energetic as Billis. And, of course, the kids, Dillon Mimms and Neha Iyer, were adorable.
The Summer Theatre of New Canaan's production of South Pacific is absolutely outstanding. Even if you've seen the show several times before, make sure you see this production. It just may make other productions look pale in comparison.
South Pacific runs through July 13. Check the calendar on the website for dates and times. You can still see other shows on weekend! For tickets, call 203-966-4634 or visit www.stonc.org.