Review: SOUTH PACIFIC is a Visually Stunning Production Presented by The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival

By: Aug. 08, 2019
Review: SOUTH PACIFIC is a Visually Stunning Production Presented by The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival
Emile (Christopher Carl) returns to find Nellie (Sarah Ellis) caring for his children. Photo Credit: Ron Heerkens Jr./GFMedia

The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival is now presenting a breathtaking and visually stunning production of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical South Pacific. The beautiful, relevant, and captivating love story sweeps the audience away to an island paradise under the creative direction of Scott Weinstein. This musical, that has garnered ten Tony Awards and three Academy Awards, can now add this brilliant production to its lists of accomplishments. The visual appeal, the creativity, the pertinent story, the music, and the cast are all phenomenal. Once again the magical stage at the Merry - Go -Round Playhouse has proven that they bring the Broadway-wow factor with a fresh take on this classic musical.

The musical takes place on an island paradise during WWII featuring music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and a book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan that is adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning novel "Tales of the South Pacific" by James A. Michener. The musical comedy features all those familiar tunes such as "Some Enchanted Evening," "There is Nothin' Like a Dame," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," and many more; beautifully brought to life by the nine-person orchestra under the always impressive musical direction of Corinne Aquilina.

The story centers on an American nurse named Nellie (Sarah Ellis) stationed on an island in the South Pacific. She falls in love with a middle-aged French plantation owner named Emile de Becque (Christopher Carl) who now calls the island his home along with his two mixed race children. The children's mother, a Tonkinese woman, had passed away several years ago and he has now fallen head over heals in love with the smiling and spunky Nellie. Nellie loves the Frenchman as well but finds it difficult to accept Emile's past relationship and the children due to their mixed heritage. There is another love story situated in the musical and it is between a U. S. lieutenant and a young Tonkinese woman but, he is concerned about what his family would think if he does choose to marry a woman of another race. This musical is a beautiful love story that also digs deeper into the issue of racial prejudice and intolerance.

Scenic designer, Jeffrey D. Kmiec, transforms the stage of the Merry - Go - Round Playhouse into a real island paradise that includes water and sand on the stage. The creativity, effortless flow, and detail of the set design sends chills for every scene. The sand, the water, and the beautiful backdrops steal the spotlight even before the show starts and dazzles even more as the impressive and emotional choreography by William Carlos Angulo plays off the scenery.

The emotion and detail of the artistic elements of this musical star on their own. However, there were a few minor sound issues on the opening night performance. Dan Ozminkowski's lighting captures the mystery, beauty, and emotion of the island paradise, while Tiffany Howard's costumes are time appropriate, breathtaking, and detailed capturing each unique character. Alfonso Annotto's wig designs transform each character with the impressive detail and visual appeal that he often delivers with his artistic design.

This production features a stellar leading cast as well as a top-notch supporting cast. The chemistry and the vocals showcase some of the finest stage acting I have had the pleasure of seeing in a long time. The entire cast delivers emotional, heartwarming, and professional performances. Numbers such as "There is Nothin' Like a Dame," "Bloody Mary," "Bali Ha'I (Reprise)," "I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy," "Honey Bun," and so many more are just some of the standout ensemble numbers. The ensemble dazzles with impressive, fresh, and emotional choreography by William Carlos Angulo in the "Overture" and "Entr'acte."

Sarah Ellis brings every detail of Nellie Forbush, the American Nurse that falls in love with the Frenchman, with her spot-on portrayal. Her energy, her spunk, her comedic charm, and just her likeable stage presence is perfection. She has the sweetness and emotional depth for numbers such as "Some Enchanted Evening (Reprise), and the comedic character charm for numbers like "A cockeyed Optimist," "Honey Bun," and "I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair." Her onstage chemistry is perfection alongside Christopher Carl as Emile.

Christopher Carl's vocals are passionate, expressive, and pure magic on stage. It is no wonder that Nellie fell for a man that sings "Some Enchanted Evening" in this captivating and purely emotional performance. His effortless vocals charm, hypnotize, and reveal some amazing power as this interesting character of Emile de Becque comes to life. Carl's vocals often stole the spotlight especially in his standout number "This Nearly Was Mine." His duet alongside Ellis of "This is How it Feels" proves that these two were meant for these roles as the romance and chemistry take center stage.

Deni as Lt. Joseph Cable delivers a poised, passionate, and powerful performance. His chemistry with the vibrant and lovely Rachel Wong as Liat is pure magic in numbers such as "Younger than Springtime," and "Happy Talk." Deni's standout number is the oh so relevant "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" as he gives every ounce of expression, emotion, and heart into this chilling musical number.

Then of course we can't forget our comedic character roles in this heartwarming show. Melody Butiu as Bloody Mary stole the show with her expression, comedic charm, and confidence. She is down right hilarious in "Bloody Mary," mysterious in "Bali Ha'I," and spunky in "Happy Talk." Reed Campbell as Luther Billis sure knows how to win over an audience with his perfected comedic skills. Talk about impressive stage presence in numbers such as "Bloody Mary," "There is Nothin' Like a Dame," "Bali Ha'I," and where he stole the show with his hilarious dance skills in "Honey Bun" while wearing a grass skirt, coconut bra, and basically a mop with a bow on his head.

Other standout performances include Travis Mitchell as Cmdr. William Harbinson, Todd Thurston as Captain Brackett, and Jake Mills as Lt. Buzz Adams. Toby Lim as Jerome and Aaliyah Nicholas as Ngana charm with their adorable number "Dites-Moi."

The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific is a must see at the Merry - Go - Round Playhouse. Do not miss your chance to see this relevant, stunning, and captivating musical as the production team at the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival continue to bring a Broadway level production to the Finger Lakes.

Running time: Approximately two hours and forty-five minutes with one twenty-minute intermission.

South Pacific presented by the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival runs from August 7, 2019 through August 28, 2019 at the Merry - Go - Round Playhouse in Auburn, New York. For tickets and information on this production and upcoming productions call the box office at 315.255.1785 or click here.

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