SOUTH PACIFIC at Olney Theatre Center - It was an Enchanting Afternoon

It is with great sadness that I report the passing of a great musician who often played at Olney, Doug Lawler. I first met Doug when he was musical director of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at the White Marsh Dinner Theatre when I had the privilege of playing Lazar Wolfe. I would often say hi to Doug at the Kennedy Center where he often played in the pits. He was such a lovely man and he will be greatly missed. I dedicate this review in his memory.

SOUTH PACIFIC hatched in 1949 by the uber musical pair of Rodgers and Hammerstein following their gigantic hit of OKLAHOMA. It is based on the James Michener novel ("Tales of the South Pacific) which dealt with the U.S. Navy and it's location on a small Pacific island and the hopes of spying on the ships and troop maneuvers of the Japanese. The recipe for its success (it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama) was to combine history, war, romance, comedy, and racial tolerance with unforgettable gorgeous melodies

Olney Artistic Director Jason Loewith was frank explaining in the program the reason he decided on SOUTH PACIFIC (which has never been done before at OTC) was based on the aftermath of the deadly Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, VA just 130 miles from Olney which featured a torch parade and Nazi and Confederate flags.

SOUTH PACIFIC arrived on Broadway less than a year after President Truman's Executive Order desegregating the Armed Forces. Loewith chose a 4th generation Japanese American to direct, Alan Muraoka and he admits he had the "responsibility of tackling issues of racism, sexism, and Orientalism both with a modern eye but without negating the historical accuracy of the piece as a whole." Maraoka adds that ..." it's a story of a young American woman's journey to overcome her learned prejudice to find true love seems entirely necessary in our current times."

Many of you would recognize Maraoka due to his work on "Sesame Street" for the past twenty years where he plays "Alan", the proprietor of Hooper's Store. He has teamed up with his Choreographer Darren Lee (another Asian-American) from the wonderful Olney 2014 production of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND. Maraoka does a masterful job of directing a superb cast and once again Lee demonstrates he is a talented Choreographer.

Maraoka has demonstrated a skill at casting beginning with the two lead characters. Emile de Becque is the French planter who was married to a Polynesian woman who has died leaving two cute mixed-race children. William Michals reprises his role that he did in the 2010 Lincoln Center Theater production. He falls in love with the American nurse Nellie Forbush portrayed by Olney veteran Jessica Lauren Bell. Michals gives a performance to remember and Bell demonstrates great comedic timing and they work wonderfully together. Playing Lt. Joe Cable is Alex Prakken making his Olney debut (following his work on the tour of NEWSIES) falls in love with a Polynesian beauty, Liat, played by the gorgeous Alexandra Palting. Playing her mother "Bloody Mary" is Cherly J. Campo making her professional debut. What a future she has!

Also making his Olney debut is David Schlumpf (Seabee Luther Billis) who hails from Chicago with an extensive resume. He has now settled in the area and will be a great addition to the Baltimore/Washington theater community. Look for him as "Elf" at Olney this November.

Completing the cast are Michael Bunce as Commander Harbison and Stephen Schmidt as Captain Brackett.

To do this show capably, a theater must have a big sounding orchestra and Olney has accomplished this. Kristin Lee Rosenfeld is the Music Director and does a yeoman's job with an orchestra pit of nine under the baton of Christopher Youstra. If money was no object, I would have loved a bigger string section though.

Kudos to the creative team of Max Doolittle (Lighting), Paige Hathaway (Scenic Design), and Ryan Hickey (Sound Design).

SOUTH PACIFIC is best known for its anthem against racism, "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" sung by Lt. Cable in Act II. According to the book "The South Pacific Companion" by Lawrence Maslon, there were many attempts to cut this song. After opening in New Haven, James Michener recalled that "a group of experienced theatrical people who wanted the play to be a success visited me to see if I could persuade Rodgers and Hammerstein to remove the song."

When the show moved to Boston, well-known drama critic Elliot Norton begged co-book writer Joshua Logan to change the number, and if he would not cut it, at least .... have it performed less briskly." Logan refused.

There was more controversy in the South, but the song has remained the backbone of the show. Even today, it hits home. The song is even mentioned in the hit musical HAMILTON.

With a list of hit songs, unbelievable voices, great direction, it's a treat to see this great musical presented in the intimate setting of the Olney Theatre. Do not miss it.

Check out the Olney blog at olneytheatre.org/dramaturgy.

There will be a talk-back following the October 6 matinee. I attended the Sept. 29 talk-back and found it incredibly informative.

You can see the incredibly talented William Michals concert Saturday night, October 13 at 7 p.m. in a show called "Some Enchanted Evening" featuring a performance of Broadway show-stoppers and romantic classics. The October 7 concert is sold out so act quickly. What an amazing talent.

SOUTH PACIFIC runs until October 7. For tickets, call 301-924-3400 or visit www.olneytheatre.org. I certainly had an enchanting afternoon at the theater.

Also running at Olney until October 28 is LABOUR OF LOVE, an American Premiere and Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.

Don't forget Olney's Concert version of Stephen Sondheim's ANYONE CAN WHISTLE on Friday, October 12 at 8 p.m.

The next Olney musical is ELF THE MUSICAL running November 9 to January 6. And what a cast - Patricia Hurley, Kevin McAllister, David Schlumpf, and Bobby Smith.

THIS AND THAT

Coming to NBC is a 15th Anniversary Concert for WICKED with original stars and Ariana Grande on October 29, 2018 at 10 p.m. Set your DVR's.

Looking forward to Signature Theatre's HEISENBERG playing until Nov. 11 while the musical BILLY Elliot runs October 30 to January 6, 2019.

Toby's Dinner has AIN'T MISBEHAVEN until November 4.

The Hippodrome has LES MISERABLES for one week starting October 9, 2018.

DANCING AT LUGHNASA continues at Everyman Theatre until October 7.

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF at Baltimore Center Stage continues until October 14.

Shakespeare Theatre Company has THE COMEDY OF ERRORS running until October 28, 2018.

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER running until October 21, 2018.

Fells Point Corner Theatre has SEX WITH STRANGERS to Oct. 7.

Spotlighters has LYSISTRATA until October 14, 2018.

The Studio Theatre has IF I FORGET until October 14, 2018.

PBS has announced its fall 2018 GREAT PERFORAMNCES line-up which will commence on Friday, November 2 and continue November 9, 16, and 23 from 9 to 11 p.m. Look for the Tony Award-winning production of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, a live production recorded in the UK of THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE, John Leguizamo's latest theatrical showcase "John Leguizamo's Road to Broadway", and "Harold Prince - A Director's Journey, a retrospective look at the 60-year career of this Tony Award-winning producer and director.

cgshubow@broadwayworld.com

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