BWW Review: Walnut's SOUTH PACIFIC is Simply Stunning!
One cannot help being captivated by the set designs by Robert Andrew Kovach and lighting design by Paul Black. These creators transform a bare stage into a lush tropical paradise of color. Tall tropical foliage surrounds the sides of the stage with a revolving center piece that carry tall palm trees, rocks and scene sets throughout the production. A stellar cast dance, dash, sings and falls in love in one of Rogers and Hammerstein's most beloved musicals.
The story centers around the unlikely attraction of a handsome French plantation owner, Emile de Becque played by Paul Schoeffler; a veteran Broadway actor seen on Walnut's stage a Capt. Hook (Peter Pan), Javert (Les Miserables), and Don Quixote (Man of LaMancha) and the naïve U.S. navy nurse, Ensign Nellie Forbush played by Kate Fahrner; Walnut's Elf (Jovie), Grease (Rizzo), Miss Saigon (Ellen) and Born Yesterday (Billie Dawn) and WICKED Broadway National Tour.
Schoeffler & Fahrner bring a wonderfully refreshing excitement to their relationship that creates a chemistry that soars when they are on stage together. Fahrner's energy is exuberant throughout the production and Schoeffler sexy playful personality wins her over.
At the same time, U.S. Lieutenant Cable Ben Michael from Walnut's 9 To 5: The Musical and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, falls for a beautiful island native named Liat (Alison T. Chi, making her Walnut debut). Can true love survive cultural prejudices and the threat of war on this island of paradise? Ben Michael's vocals are simply stunning making one wish R&H had written several solos for the Lieutenant and Chi's Liat is sweetly alluring.
Lori Tan Chinn makes her Walnut debut as the sarcastic, sassy Bloody Mary. Chinn also played the role in the 2001 made-for-television movie, starring Glenn Close. Many audience members will recognize her from her character on Orange is the New Black, Mei Chang. Among Chinn's numerous stage credits, she has been seen on Broadway in M. Butterfly, G.R. Point and Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen.
Philly favorites join in the adventure featuring the always ready for a laugh Fran Prisco is "a hundred and one pounds of fun" as Luther Billis. Prisco was last seen in Walnut's hit show Sister Act as Stewpot. Joining Prisco are Philly pals and seasoned actors Ben Dibble as Professor and Jeffrey Coon as Commander William Harbison as well as Dan Olmstead as Captain George Brackett.
The ensemble is made up of Walnut veterans Joey Abramowicz, Jennie Eisenhower, Maria Konstantinidis and Owen Pelesh. Shavey Brown, Schyler Conaway, Casey ElizaBeth Gill, Jessica Gruver, Kathryn Miller, Joseph Michael O'Brien, Chris Stevens and Sean Thompson make their Walnut Mainstage debuts with this production. Choreographer Michelle Gaudette captures as much energy as possible from this talented group of sailors and seabees. Long time Walnut director Charles Abbot takes this production to the next level of excitement and heartfelt emotions.
Playing Emile's adorable children are all local to the Philadelphia area; Courtney Chu of Mount Laurel, NJ and Ella Hampton of Cherry Hill, NJ will share the role of Ngana. The role of Jerome will be shared by Ethen Jih-Cook of Philadelphia, PA and Kwanchi Loo of Cherry Hill, NJ.
The thrilling score includes "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," "Some Enchanted Evening," "There Is Nothing Like a Dame," "Younger Than Springtime" and "I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy."
As a special treat the grandson of Oscar Hammerstein, Will was in the audience for the opening and one of the first people on his feet for a well deserved standing ovation.
SOUTH PACIFIC runs at the Walnut September 6 through October 23. For tickets and information, call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787. Tickets are also available online 24/7 by visiting www.WalnutStreetTheatre.org or Ticketmaster.
Photos by Mark Garvin