Timeless South Pacific Lights Up Surfside Print E-mail

 

WFIT (NPR Radio, Melbourne, Fla)

March 6, 2017

Who doesn't love the catchy tunes of this blockbuster musical that debuted nearly seven decades ago?SP 1

Cocoa Beach's Surfside Playhouse brings to life one of the most celebrated American musicals in their current production of South Pacific where the sky is a bright canary yellow, the water an idyllic clear blue and love can happen at first glance. It's a sweeping romance with a storyline that tells the story of two couples whose love is tested by the dangers of war and prejudices of their times.

It's adapted from the 19 interconnected stories that James Michener wove into his Pulitzer Prize-winning Tales of the South Pacific, which in turn inspired Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, South Pacific. It is set on a Pacific island paradise during World War II in 1944.

Hammerstein’s script remains remarkable for its simultaneous simplicity and subtlety. Under the stellar direction of Bryan Bergeron, the Surfside production hits all of the themes, its plot and music addressing two parallel love stories and universal issues like racial prejudice, sexism, war, fear, and uncertainty.

SP 2A cast of 23 actors romp across a stage that features a lovely design of wicker set pieces and colorful vistas of the Pacific. A the heart of the rousing South Pacific, we have the love story of a naive nurse from Little Rock stationed on a South Pacific island who falls in love with a handsome, kind hearted, middle-aged expat French plantation owner with a secret past. This story is intertwined with a secondary romance between a U.S. lieutenant and a young Tonkinese woman.

Bergeron projects South Pacific will be the theatre's best selling show, ever.

"There is this iconic feeling that brings people back and it's nostalgic, those incredibly popular songs take you back to a younger time," Bergeron observed. "Add the conflicted love interests and the racial prejudice that's always relevant in America. Set in the righteousness of World War II. It's all very powerful. After all this time the public still really loves it."

The original Broadway production enjoyed immense critical and box-office success and became the second-longest running Broadway musical to that point (behind Rodgers and Hammerstein's earlier Oklahoma!). Its exploration of racial and social issues of the day earned South Pacific the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950. The stage show has enjoyed many successful revivals and tours, spawning a 1958 film and television adaptations. The 2008 Broadway revival won seven Tonys, including Best Musical Revival.

Richard Rodgers was the most successful composer of popular music for the theater in the 20th century. His parade of South Pacific's tunes include "Bali Ha'i," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," "Some Enchanted Evening," "There Is Nothing Like a Dame," "Happy Talk," "A Cockeyed Optimist," "Younger Than Springtime" and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy.”

"They became hugely popular songs outside of theatre experience," Bergeron noted. "There is very little harmony, more straight-line melody. The writing of the melodies is just brilliant, they just stay with you."

When Emile (Jack Maloney) serenades the perky Nellie (Jennifer Jesseman) with “Some Enchanted Evening,” her face beams with disbelief that this wonderful man is just for her. And when she cuts loose with her freewheeling “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy,” the audience roars.

Lightening the mood is a beach full of raunchy Seabees led by the rascal Luther Billis (Rhett Pennell) in a superb comedic role. A strong ensemble with a booming sound – under the musical direction of John Kurowsky – the Seabees delight in antagonizing the local Bloody Mary (Jody Hatcher), that is when they’re not eyeing-up the female nurses.SP 4

The perpetual entrepreneur Bloody Mary delivers a surprisingly seductive “Bali Ha’" just before the buttoned-down Lt. Cable (Anthony DeTrano) finally comes alive crooning a heavenly “Younger Than Springtime.”

There are pointed racial undertones that run throughout the play. When Nellie comes face to face with Emile’s two Polynesian children, she can't quite overcome her own family's prejudices. And then there’s Lt. Cable, who hails from Philadelphia with his proper girlfriend waiting on him back home. Lt. Cable sings “Carefully Taught," a song about learning to hate and fear those different than you. You must be taught to “hate and fear,” that you must be taught before you are “six or seven or eight to hate all the people your relatives hate.”

An explosive theme when the song was first written in 1949, it still holds true today.

South Pacific plays March 10-11-12 and 17-18-19, Fridays & Saturdays 8:00 p.m., Sundays 2:00 p. m. Tickets are $30 per person or $25 per person for parties of two or more. Call 321-783-3127 or visit www.surfsideplayers.com

 

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