South Pacific – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

From the first notes of the orchestra’s overture, you will be whisked away to the exotic Pacific islands where magic flourishes. Picture swaying palm trees, soft island breezes, coral dotted waters, lush green mountains, bouquets of tropical blossoms and endless Pacific ocean waves and you will be set to experience the enchanting production of “South Pacific” until Sunday, August 11, courtesy of Goodspeed Musicals. This classic musical is a splendid way to spend a summer evening under the stars.

In 1949, three short stories of James Michener, taken from his Pulitzer prize-winning novel “Tales of the South Pacific,” were transformed into a musical called by many the finest ever composed for the stage. Two serious stories about couples whose love is threatened by the war and by their own prejudices were balanced by a third story about Luther Billis, a womanizing but lovable sailor, to provide comic relief.

The result was “South Pacific,” a royal treat by Rodgers and Hammerstein, with book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan that has been revised and enhanced seven decades later with its themes of racial prejudice strengthened and sensitized for today’s audiences. Regrettably the world we inhabit has not learned empathy and kindness and still clings to hatred of those we do not know as well as the evils of antisemitism.

The primary story swirls around a middle-aged French plantation owner Emile de Becque, brought to charming and romantic life by Omar Lopez-Cepero, who meets a naïve young United States Navy nurse from Arkansas, Nellie Forbush, an engagingly sweet and effervescent Danielle Wade, at an officers’ club dance and they fall in love “one enchanted evening.” The second story involves United States Marine Lieutenant Joe Cable, a strong and committed Cameron Loyal, who comes to the island to carry out a dangerous spy mission and becomes infatuated with Liat, a Tonkinese girl, played by a lovely Alex Humphreys. Both Nellie and Cable experience bigotry and suffer from deep-seated prejudices, feelings that are revealed in the telling song “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.”

Some of the other beautiful tunes that have come out of this production include “This Nearly Was Mine,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Bali Ha’i,” “Younger Than Springtime” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy,” as well as the light hearted “Happy Talk,” “Bloody Mary,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair,” “There is Nothing Like a Dame” and “Honey Bun.”

While the play deals with World War II and the conflict in the Pacific against the Japanese as well as the reactions in the United States, some of the production’s lighter moments are provided by Luther Billis as an entrepreneurial sort who finds himself in a new world and tries to make the best of it, even if it involves bending the rules. He epitomizes the great American ethic of inventiveness based on necessity, providing services to relieve his men’s boredom and loneliness. Believing in the greater good, Luther is ready and able to meet his sailors’s needs, be it for a laundry service, island trinkets or female companionship. Kevin Quillon brings this role to comic life.

Also outstanding in her part is Joan Almedilla as Bloody Mary, who like Luther is trying to earn a good living by being enterprising as well as finding a suitable husband for her daughter Liat. She focuses on Joe Cable as being the right man.

Sky Vaux Fuller and Emjay Roashare take on the role of Emile’s daughter and son. Chay Yew directs a large and talented cast in this wonderful production who dance with glee thanks to Parker Esse’s energetic choreography and inspiring music directed by Adam Souza.
For tickets ($30 and $42 and up), call Goodspeed Musicals, 6 Main Street, East Haddam at 860-873-8668 or online at Performances are Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Start off your summer on a high note, beautifully sung, by attending a performance of “South Pacific,” a universal favorite in the world of musical theater.