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BWW Reviews: SOUTH PACIFIC at Algonquin Arts Theatre

EMILE: Out here, one becomes hungry to learn everything. Not to miss anything. Not to let anything good... pass by.

Second chances are rare. Especially in the theatre. Manasquan's Algonquin Arts Theatre is currently offering New Jersey playgoers a second chance to see William Michals play Emile de Becque in Rodgers and Hammerstein's SOUTH PACIFIC. During 2010 Michals stepped in for vacationing Paulo Szot in the acclaimed Lincoln Center Theatre revival. This is also a bit of a homecoming for Michals, who first played the role in 1981 in nearby Spring Lake. The 1949 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical is the ideal showcase for Michals' rich baritone and intensely powerful performance style.

As most musical theatre fans already know, the character of de Becque sings what is perhaps Rodgers and Hammerstein's most enduring classic, "Some Enchanted Evening." The song comes early in the nearly three hour musical drama, but luckily there is a welcome reprise a few scenes later. All exaggeration aside, Michals' sonorous voice is nothing short of breathtaking. While that thrilling moment dominates Act One, Michals thrills us once again in Act Two with "This Nearly Was Mine." The song may not be as well known, but it is packed with raw emotion, something Michals beautifully channels through his rich vocal stylings.

Based on James A. Michener's collected war stories "Tales of the South Pacific," the musical is a layered, textured work which skillfully balances several plots and characters without any particular one seeming subordinate to the others. In addition to the romance of French planter de Becque and optimistic American nurse, Nellie Forbush (Jessica A. Berger), the show presents the similarly-themed love story of Lieutenant Joe Cable (Mason Kugelman) and island girl Liat (Julia Sun). Into that mix, Hammerstein interpolates the comical escapades of enterprising sailor Luther Billis (Brendan Flanagan) and the equally entrepreneurial Bloody Mary (Maggie Worsdale), a coarse native woman making the most of the war by selling over-priced souvenirs. Hammerstein's shrewd attack on racism is best embodied in the song "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught," continuing themes he first explored with Jerome Kern in 1927's SHOW BOAT.

Michals sets a high mark for the Manasquan production, and most of the time the surrounding show rises to that same level of excellence. The cast is musically adept, and provides capable dramatic support as well. William Davis' spare but elegant raffia and bamboo infused scenery works particularly well with Andrew Scharwath's evocative lighting. Director Jan Topoleski solves most of the staging challenges presented by this Golden Age classic but his greatest asset is definitely his star, who not only expertly assays de Becque, but also subtly sets the pace and tone for the production.

With SOUTH PACIFIC Algonquin Arts continues to provide the highest quality musical theatre to New Jersey audiences while showcasing Broadway's most talented performers. Those who can't make it to Manasquan will have to make do with Michals' CD "Broadway in Concert" on which he sings (naturally) "Some Enchanted Evening." Of course, seeing him sing it live and in person is preferable.

Don't miss it! It would be a shame to let this second chance... pass by.

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SOUTH PACIFIC continues through April 19 at the Algonquin Arts Theatre, 173 Main Street, Manasquan, New Jersey 08736. For tickets and information call 732-528-9211 or visit

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From This Author - Michael T. Mooney