Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific has something for everyone: love stories to tug your heartstrings, the suspense of a nation at war, comedic relief to provoke some belly laughs and a musical score that might bring you to tears. Gateway has delivered another hit production this summer!
I was instantly enthralled with the story. The dramatic overture captures your attention and the actors draw you in with their warmth and vivacity. We are taken to an island in the South Pacific during World War II, occupied by the American military. There is a romance brewing between Ensign Nellie Forbush and French plantation owner Emile De Becque. Nellie is a self-proclaimed hick from Little Rock, Arkansas. Emile is a self-exiled former French officer, who fled his country decades ago.
We get an earful of Nellie’s background in the lilting song “A Cockeyed Optimist” and Julia Burrows is charming and likable as the love struck army nurse, her voice sweet and captivating. As the dashing Emile De Becque, Christopher Carl is enigmatic with a commanding stage presence and a baritone voice that is rich, smooth and intoxicating. In his solo “Some Enchanted Evening” we fall in love with Emile, along with Nellie.
On another part of the island, we meet Bloody Mary, the local woman selling eclectic souvenirs. Jody Kimura brings her character to life, inciting plenty of laughter at her one-liners and crazy antics. She is joined by the sailors, Seabees and marines stationed on the island, and a particularly cheeky sailor named Luther Billis, played by Andrew Foote. Billis leads the guys and Bloody Mary in “There’s Nothin’ Like a Dame,” a favorite of mine, because it is boisterous, fun, and raunchy. The harmony between the men is sensational, leaving no doubt that these guys can sing.
Enter Lt. Joseph Cable, a dashing young marine played by Brandon Andrus, sent to the island on an espionage mission for the American military. The unsuspecting officer is swept up in Bloody Mary’s mysterious song “Bali Ha’I,” and we are left to wonder why he is drawn to the island.
Nellie, doubting her love, decides that she’s going to end her romance, and leads the girls into the spirited performance “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair.” Emile walks in at the end of the song, invites Nellie to a party at his plantation in her honor, and the tune quickly changes to “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy.”
On the island of Bali Ha’I, Bloody Mary introduces Lt. Cable to her beautiful Tonkinese daughter, Liat. Cable and Liat fall in love at first sight, but because of her lineage, Cable will ultimately refuse her and turn his back on their love. In the heartbreaking song “Younger than Springtime,” we lose our hearts to the handsome, ill-fated lieutenant.
On the night of Emile’s party, Nellie’s blissful evening is brought to a halt when she discovers Emile has two children who are half-Polynesian. Having been brought up with prejudices back home in Arkansas, Nellie is unable to accept them, and flees Emile’s home.
Our two heartbroken heroes set out on the espionage mission together, Lt. Cable using Emile’s vast knowledge of the area to help gain information for the American military.
When Nellie learns that Emile has gone on a dangerous, life-threatening mission, she realizes nothing is more important than love. When we learn that Lt. Cable has perished, heavy silence ensued; the reality of war brought back to the forefront.
The cast does an excellent job of taking us along for this emotional ride; happy, sad or love-struck we live each moment. The musical genius of Rogers and Hammerstein is evident in how powerfully their music and lyrics affect us.
“South Pacific” will continue to enchant audiences at the Patchogue Theater through August 9. “Legends in Concert” will return to Patchogue August 13–17. Gateway will close its summer season back in Bellport with “The Addams Family,” August 27–September 13. For more information visit pacsc.org.