By Garrett Stack
An enchanted evening can be had at the new production of South Pacific presented by the Summer Theater of New Canaan. Celebrating ten years in the business, Summer Theater of New Canaan has mounted an entertaining staging of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic with several standout moments and performances.
Starting with the first echoes of Bali Ha’i that opens the overture, this reviewer was pleased with David Turner and his very young 15-member pit orchestra that was not only on pitch but perfectly balanced, thanks to wonderful work by sound designer Brian Walters who made sure every word, lyric and note was heard. Not something to be taken for granted, mind you.
So now we have music, and sound, lights up, cast ready, and two adorable little kids sing Dites-Moi. Aw… We meet Ensign Nurse Nellie Forbush, played by Equity actor Tiffan Borelli with a plausible southern “hick” flair.
Enter Emile de Becque, suave French ex-patriot and south Pacific plantation owner, played in New Canaan by Daniel Klein. Here’s where things started to dip. According to the printed program Mr. Klein is, “thrilled to make the jump from opera to musical theater.” Recently he sang leads in Beethoven’s Ninth, Verdi’s Requiem, and Rigoletto.
Those credentials apparently led him down the road to grand opera and off the route to musical theater. His opening chance to prove himself to the audience comes with the magnificent Some Enchanted Evening, which he delivered in grand opera style with more rolled r’s than I care to count. It was downright off-putting. He should have taken his cues from the most recent Broadway Emile, Opera singer Paulo Szot, who made the transition to musical theater without a single trill. Now that I’ve slashed this actor, he did come around and settled into a more comfortable and believable Emile as the evening went on.
Comic relief time: The handsome Sailors, Seabees and Marines lifted our spirits with their rousing traditional crowd pleasers Bloody Mary and There Is Nothing Like a Dame. Now we’re getting somewhere. Enter Equity actor Janelle Robertson as Bloody Mary and suddenly South Pacific takes off. She lit up the stage, energized the cast and gave the audience something to cheer about -- shrunken heads and all. She breaks the cavorting with an incredible reading of Bali Ha’i and we are in the palm of her hand.
As if some evil spell has been lifted, Joshua Logan’s and Oscar Hammerstein’s book comes to life, the orchestra gets even better, and we’re now invested in Nellie and Emile’s struggle. All thanks to Bloody Mary.
Nellie gets it going with wonderful action and singing with the rest of the nurses in I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair – on stage shower and all. Daniel Klein as Emile shows up and he’s now relaxed and ready to reprise Some Enchanted Evening. Much better.
Equity actors Nick Reynolds, as Luther Billis - Nellie’s friend, and Jason Michael Evans, as Lt. Joseph Cable, bring comedy and drama to the stage delivering noteworthy performances. Billis the comic and Cable the tormented. Nice work.
Jason Michael Evans, as Lt. Cable, delivers two knockouts: Younger Than Springtime and the show’s actual theme song, You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught. All this after Janelle Robertson gives us another treat as Bloody Mary singing Happy Talk with a beautiful fan dance by Kim Wong as Liat.
Nearing the end of the show, the drama builds as personal demons rear their ugly heads and the chance to change the course of WW II presents itself. I found myself steeped in the action and moved by the performances right to the very end.
Let Bali Hai call you to the Summer Theater of New Canaan for an evening or afternoon performance of this very enjoyable production. Performances through July 13.
On the Theatre Circuit for WMNR, I’m Garrett Stack. [Saw the 6/20/13, 8:00 PM performance.]