BWW Reviews: Stellar Ensemble Shines in Ogunquit's SOUTH PACIFIC


There is nothin' like a good old-fashioned musical that relies on its book and score instead of million dollar special effects and glee-sounding vocals. Ogunquit Playhouse raises the curtain on its second show of the season with South Pacific, a summer "must-see" now playing through July 15.

For those few that don't know, South Pacific is the Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award winning musical by Rodgers & Hammerstein with such memorable songs as Some Enchanted Evening, Bali Ha'i", Younger Than Springtime and A Cockeyed Optimist. Surrounded by an eclectic group of men, women and islanders, South Pacific tells the romantic struggles of two couples as they confront the realities of war and a world of prejudice that plays tug-of-war with their hearts and social consciousness in the South Pacific during World War II.

Opera star Branch Fields (Emile deBecque) fills The Playhouse with his flawless bass vocals, making every song he sings a show-stopper. Women and men alike swoon as Fields sings the signature song, Some Enchanted Evening. Field's strong operatic background, however, did not carry over as well into his acting which is, at times, stiff and unnatural.

Jennie Sophia (Nellie Forbush) is a Rodgers & Hammerstein dream with her triple threat talents that bring a multi-layered performance equal to that of Mary Martin.

Regardless of their actual ages, I wish there had been more of an age difference in appearance between the too youthful looking Fields and the stunning Sophia.

Christine Toy Johnson (Bloody Mary) gives a crowd-pleasing performance, highlighted with her energetic humor and commanding presence. I love Johnson's make-up choices and physicality. Hsin-Yu Liao (Liat) has a heartfelt fragility in a challenging role that demands you silently express your emotions.

Christopher Johnstone (Lt. Cable) soars in song and delivers a strong acting arc for his character's conflicts. Ben Crawford (Luther Billis) gives a good performance but misses the comedic mark of the wheeler-dealer wanna-be. Joe Coots (Stewpot) and Anthony Christian Daniel (Professor) are hilariously solid in their all-too brief antics and provide some of the best comedic moments in the show.

John Bolger (Captain Brackett) and Robert Ierardi (Cmdr. Harbison) are strong actors who, unfortunately, have been directed to shout throughout most of their scenes. Quiet control gives just as much commanding strength as in-your-face yelling, and would have offered more interesting acting choices.

With such important parts to play, it's unfortunately obvious that professional child actors weren't used for the roles of Emile de Becque's children, Ngana (Jasmine Nicole Reyers) and Jerome (Steven Sebastian Reyers Jr).

There is no question the dynamic ensemble gives a triple threat foundation to the show, providing powerful vocals, well executed choreography and committed character choices. Kristin Kelleher (Ensign Yaeger), Laura Pavles (Ensign Murphy) and Kirk Simpson (McCaffrey) are standouts. I love the unique look and personality of each ensemble member, making for interesting pictures and not just cookie-cutter chorus clumps.

Shaun Kerrison (Director) certainly has an impressive resume but, for me, there are missing moments and debatable choices made, focusing too much on the dramatic elements and not giving enough to the humorous layer and minor character relationships that are so beautifully interwoven within the script and score.

I found the need to show two naked male backsides unnecessary and out of place for this show. I think it's sad that during intermission, those bare behinds were talked about more than how wonderful everything else was.

Ken Clifton (Musical Director) continues to get the most out of his performers with excellent diction, coloring and interpretation. Clifton stays true to the South Pacific musicality with subtle creative touches of his own. A pitchy overture thankfully turned into a brilliantly played score.

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Michael Tobin Michael J. Tobin has been an actor, director, educator and theater administrator for the past 30 years in theaters throughout Maine, New Hampshire, New England and around the country. Mr. Tobin has performed and directed in over 350+ productions including Off-Broadway, national tours, regional and dinner theaters, summerstock, film, commercials and radio.

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