BWW Reviews: SOUTH PACIFIC Sets the Bar High for Future Musicals in Kansas City
One enchanted evening is what Kansas City audiences received on opening night of South Pacific, the Musical Theater Heritage production at the Off Center Theatre. Premiering on Broadway in 1949 the musical composed by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II garnered 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical, and Best Score. It is the only musical production to win all four Tony Awards in the acting Categories and in 1950, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Sarah Crawford, the Artistic Director for Musical Theater Heritage, directs and musically directs the concert style production. With minimum sets, props, and costumes the actors play more to the audience than to the cast. Jeremy Watson a familiar face around Musical Theater Heritage works as the assistant music director and show conductor weaving a spell on the audience from the first note.
Set during World War II South Pacific is the tale of love, racism, honor, and duty. Though the production has an underlying meaning, that Rodgers and Hammerstein never apologized for, the rapturous music is more enduring. Many of the songs have become standards, "Some Enchanted Evening," "Bali Ha'I," "I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy," and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair," among others.
The bar is set high for the performance from the first song as Julia and Janiel Balino playing Ngana and Janette take the stage for the opening number. Making their professional debut in South Pacific it is easy to see that their future shines bright in the theater.
Ashley Pankow stars as Ensign Nellie Forbush, the nurse new to the island that falls in love with the French exile Emile de Becque, played by Christopher Sanders. With her southern and his French accent they light up the stage each time they approach a microphone. The two have a spark of chemistry that lights a fire in the audience that burns long after the final curtain. This is the sixth production of South Pacific that Sanders has performed in, with over a thousand performances as Emile.
Enjoli Gavin magnificently plays Bloody Mary the native who tries to marry her daughter Liat, played by Megan Herrera, to Lieutenant Cable, played by Adam Branson. Gavin has such a stage presence that even the lights seem to sparkle brighter when she steps in front of the microphone. Her accent and facial expressions are perfect for the role and add special delight to the audience.
Herrera, as I have come to expect each time I see her on stage, gives a stellar performance as Liat, who refuses to marry anyone other than the lieutenant. The only regret towards her performance was the audience only got a sample of her vocal talents. Besides being a fine actor, she has a marvelous voice.
The performance of Branson as Lieutenant Cable is ideal as his character changes from a soldier on a mission to a soldier in love. Justin Barron plays Billis, the sailor who tries anything to get to the mysterious island of Bali Ha'I.
The large supporting cast is a virtual who's who of theater in Kansas City. Matthew King, Ari Bavel, Trevor Belt, Jeff Berger, Mandy Boothe, Daniel Boothe making his debut at Musical Theater Heritage, Nathan Bovos, Erin Fox making her debut at Musical Theater Heritage, Liz Clark, Bob Linebarger, Kelsea Victoria McLean, Todd Miller, Lexi Morris in her debut performance, Mindy Moritz, Zachary Parker, and Bob Wearing round out one of the finest casts to take the stage in Kansas City.
South Pacific continues at the Off Center Theatre through August 24. Purchase tickets at 816-545-6000 or the Musical Theater Heritage website.
Photo courtesy of Tim Scott.