TR Robertson– The classic and timeless music of the award winning musical “South Pacific” is once again on stage, this time presented by the San Diego Musical Theatre on stage at the Horton Grand Theatre in San Diego, under the direction of Kirsten Chandler. With music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan, the musical was adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Tales of the South Pacific, by James Michener. The minute the orchestra, under the direction of Don Le Master, begins the musical introduction before curtain, the audience recognizes song after song that are some of the most memorable songs from musical theatre. Songs such as “Some Enchanted Evening”. “There is Nothing like a Dame”, “Bali Ha’i”, “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” are classic Broadway musical songs.
Photos by Ken Jacques
“South Pacific” premiered on Broadway in 1949 at the Majestic Theatre. It would run for 1,925 performances. The musical would win 10 Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Along with setting a number of records the musical would be one of the first Broadway musicals to sell a variety of souvenirs associated with the musical. The musical would also touch on the controversial subject of racism, bigotry and prejudice as it related to America and WW II in the South Pacific. Without dwelling on the subject, the issues it raised at the time would only be a prelude to the social issues that would dominate the 50’s and 60’s.
The story revolves around a nurse, Nellie Forbush, who has fallen in love with a middle aged French expatriate plantation owner, Emile De Becque. Emile has kept the fact he was previously married to a Polynesian woman, who has died, and has two mixed-race children. Forbush is struggling with accepting Emile’s children. Another romance struggling with racial acceptance is a young lieutenant, Joseph Cable, who is swept up by the beauty of the islands and falls in love with a young Tonkinese woman. Cable is engaged to an American woman in the states, but is conflicted by his feelings for the young islander and what ramifications this will have on both of them. Mix in a daring “spy” mission De Becque is talked into by the base commander to assist the Americans in their fight against Japan, the off limits mystical island of Bali Ha’i, a conniving Navy Seabee (Luther Billis) and an equally conniving islander (Bloody Mary) and it is anyone’s guess what the outcome of these relationships will bring.
The large 23 member cast presents a wonderful rendition of this well-known musical. Led by the outstanding baritone voice of award winning actor Robert J. Townsend, as Emile De Becque and a feisty performance by Carolyn Agan, as Nellie Forbush, we step back in time when things were seemingly simpler, but in reality were as wrapped in as many social issues as today. Playing Lt. Joseph Cable is Casey Johnson, who is playing in his first major performance in California. Johnson presents Cable with sensitivity and compassion. The conniving Luther Billis is played by Agustine Welles, a Poway High graduate who has played in numerous performances around the country. Gigi Coddington, as Bloody Mary, brings both a surly and humorous attitude to the mother of Liat, as she tries to play matchmaker one moment and make a quick buck the next. Catrina Teruel plays Liat, presenting her with tenderness and innocence. The hard core military Captain George Brackett is played by John George Campbell and his second, Cmdr. William Harbison, is played by Jason R. Bailly. Both actors are making their debut with SDMT. Also making first time performances with SDMT and playing Emile’s children are Isabella Pruter as Ngana and Bobby Chiu as Jerome.
Chandler’s creative team for “South Pacific” includes sets by Mike Buckley, lighting by Michelle Miles, costumes by Janet Pitcher, sound by Kevin Anthenill, hair & wigs by Peter Herman, property manager Heather Longfellow, choreography by Randy Slovacek, and Stage Manager Amy Funder.
“South Pacific” will continue at Horton Grand Theatre until May 27th. The Theatre is located at 444 Fourth Ave. in San Diego’s Gaslamp District. Ticket prices range from $30 – $70 and can be purchased at 858-560-5740 or go to www.sdmt.org. Next up for SDMT is “Hairspray” beginning August 3rd, winner of 8 Tony Awards including Best Musical.