BWW Reviews: A Trip to SOUTH PACIFIC with Central Florida Community Arts
SOUTH PACIFIC is a vintage Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that best resonates with a more seasoned audience, but it is the story of perseverance and love that transcends time. Central Florida Community Arts excels with it's music and this cast's vocal abilities are incredible. Due to the length, I wish that this production was a concert, but the set and the directional choices made for an overall entertaining show.
SOUTH PACIFIC takes place during World War II, where a group of American nurses, navy men, and locals are stationed on an Allied controlled island. While not directly involved with any fighting, there is a hospital on the island, where a young nurse named Nellie Forbush (Ali Thibodeau) works. Nellie falls in love with a French expatriate, Emile de Becque (David Lowe), who has a number of ghosts from his past. This musical is a snapshot in time for the folks living and working on this island. As with most WWII stories, there is always a bit of tragedy, but also hope. The war is merely a backdrop for the moment in time where we meet several characters just trying to live their lives. The plot is slow to pick up and if it weren't for the songs I'm not sure that SOUTH PACIFIC would be a show that people love.
Ali Thibodeau is a endearing, vibrant, and fierce Nellie. She is a quintessential American girl with a lovely voice to match. Though there was only a bit of chemistry between her and her love interest, de Becque, the pair's voices make up for any awkwardness. David Lowe had the difficult task of playing a French man with a very thick accent. Lowe's powerful baritone voice steals the show, especially in "Some Enchanted Evening" and "This Nearly was Mine."
The audience loved the character Bloody Mary (Monica Rae Andrews), who is a native to the island and hawks her grass skirts to navy men to send back to their wives. Andrews absolutely commits to her role and is quite endearing. Bloody Mary does not give into the social roles given to her. She is an entrepreneur and though stereotypical in her appearance, her progressive thoughts are anything but.
SOUTH PACIFIC comments on racism in a way that we still see today with the perception of interracial couples. It is interesting because Nellie gets incredibly upset when she finds out de Becque has had children with a Tonkinese woman, which causes her to break up her relationship. Then there is Lt. Joseph Cable (Daniel Longacre) to falls in love with Bloody Mary's daughter, Liat (Melina Kay). In the song "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" Cable explains that people aren't born racist, but are raised that way. Lt. Cable was afraid of marrying Liat, so he breaks off his relationship despite his obvious love. Longacre and Kay have a great on-stage genuine chemistry. Liat is a character of few words, so her face says it all. It was heartbreaking to watch the pair say their goodbyes.
There is an entire live orchestra that accompanies this production. It is the music and vocals that makes Central Florida Community Arts stand out. The entire cast has amazingly well-polished vocals. When the men come out to sing "There is Nothing Like a Dame," the sound fills the room and the excitement is palpable. The other great ensemble song is "Honey Bun," which had the audience laughing out loud.
This is a long show; it runs about 3 hours total with a moderate pace. I understand the need to tell the story in its entirety, but also feel that some parts could have been cut for the sake of time. It is definitely worth a trip to Central Florida Community Arts, which has it's own venue and parking lot right in the Ivanhoe area. From the moment you walk into the space, you are instantly transported to the Pacific. The stage is set up with a run way down the middle and side wings that surround ¾ of the audience. There are exotic flowers and The overall experience is immersive with cast members exit and entering from all around the space. The lighting is also very cool as it bleeds onto the ceiling and side walls. The most amazing set piece is a working shower that Nellie uses during "I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair" right on stage.
Directed by Donald Rupe, SOUTH PACIFIC runs on select dates and times now through April 26th at Central Florida Community Arts (250 SW Ivanhoe Blvd, Orlando, FL 32804). For tickets and more information visit www.cfcarts.com. Be sure to check out the School of Performing Arts, which offers a variety of affordable arts education programs including acting, music and more.
Photo Credit: Donald Rupe