BWW Review: SOUTH PACIFIC at Theatre In The Park

BWW Review: SOUTH PACIFIC at Theatre In The Park

"South Pacific" at the huge "Theatre In The Park" outdoor amphitheater is a super community theater rendition of the Rogers and Hammerstein 1949 ground-breaking classic. The scene is a tiny island on the stepping stone chain of Polynesian Islands being retaken by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps following the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941.

The military has established a supply base and hospital on the island in French Polynesia. Although the theme is mild by 2018 standards, it was radical for 1949 and still resonates in current day news almost 70 years later. "South Pacific" tells the story of two inter-racial relationships. Nurse Ensign Nellie Forbush from Little Rock (Madeline Clem) has fallen hard for French Colonial planter Emile De Becque (Paul Secor Morel). Emile is a middle-aged widower; having been previously married and having a family with a native woman. Marine Lt. Joseph Cable (John Rizzo) is in love with a Polynesian girl named Liat (Ivy Huang). Neither Nellie nor Joe can at first get past the racial diversity embodied in their respective partners.BWW Review: SOUTH PACIFIC at Theatre In The Park

"South Pacific" is crammed with singable, recognizable music, but the penultimate point of the show is advanced in Lt. Joe Cable's Act II "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught (To Hate)."

Emile and Joe choose to become secret coast watchers on a nearby island. The information they provide by radio leads to huge naval defeats for the enemy. Joe does not survive. BWW Review: SOUTH PACIFIC at Theatre In The Park

Fans of the classical musical theatre songbook will recognize and enjoy "Dites-Moi," "A Cockeyed Optimist, "Some Enchanted Evening," "There Is Nothing Like A Dame," "Bali Hai," "I'm In Love With A Wonderful Guy," "Honey Bun," and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair" plus others.

Comic relief is offered by the Seabee and the Nurse Chorus, Bloody Mary (Zenia Lee) and Seabee Luther Billis (Daniel Verschelden). Bloody Mary is Liat's Mom and local purveyor of all things souvenir. Luther is the prototypical wise guy with a heart of gold. He is this organization's Radar O'Reilly; the is the source of all luxuries scrounged and money made, a businessman, and quiet torch-bearer for Neillie.

BWW Review: SOUTH PACIFIC at Theatre In The ParkDirection by Julie Ewing is top notch for this show in this venue. Choreography by Carolyn Braverman is excellent. Sets by Ben Kramer are more than serviceable. "South Pacific" has 24 scenes over two acts.

The action was originally designed to be performed on the same "Majestic Theater" New York proscenium stage that has hosted "Phantom of the Opera" for the past thirty years.

In those days, every other scene was called a runner scene in front of a traveler curtain so main set changes behind could be accomplished.

Flash forward, the director and set designer for this good production have cleverly moved most of the runners to the ramp in front of the orchestra pit or onto stage wagons rolled on or off stage while leaving the main set untouched. It works well.

Audio amplification of these very good voices and the director's choice to adopt a broad presentational acting style on this huge space works. The action carries to the back of the amphitheater.

Special cudos should go to all the featured actors. Paul Secor Morel has the requisite bass ranges needed for Emile. Madeline Clem stands out as singer and dancer, but even more for her comfort in projecting the emotion of the character to the furthest reaches of the enormous space. John Rizzo's strong musical theater tenor is my personal favorite vocal performance. Zenia Lee performs the mysterious "Bali Hai" with professionalism and verve.

"South Pacific" runs through June 30 at Theatre in the Park at Shawnee Mission Park in Johnson County off Renner Rd. Tickets are available at the box office or at

Photo's provided by Bob Compton and Theatre In The Park.

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From This Author Alan Portner

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