'South Pacific'

By: 
Ben Miles

The Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Tales of the South Pacific” was authored by James Michener in 1947. Two-years later, after a melodic reworking by Richard Rodgers (Music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (Lyrics) and a script by Joshua Logan, it premiered on Broadway as the memorable musical we now refer to as simply “South Pacific”; it ran on the Great White Way for 1,925 performances winning several Tony Awards – including the trophy for Best Musical. In 1958, “South Pacific” was made into a film and in 2001 another “South Pacific” movie was made for television.

While both big screen celluloid and today’s home entertainment centers are mediums, which can convey the tropical lushness of the “South Pacific” story, there is nothing like the live stage in providing the immediacy and imagination to fulfill the requirements of “South Pacific’s” complex narrative. But the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts has taken up the challenge of mounting this nearly three-hour American classic with impressive success.

With propulsive direction given by Glenn Casale and gravity-defying choreography conceived by Peggy Hickey, along with Brent Crayon’s musical direction of a multi-piece orchestra, we are given a cast of two-dozen players.

With a fetching scenic design (by Robert Kovach), which recreates the atmospherics of the Polynesian South Seas, convincing period costuming (by Mary Folino), a subtle but moody lighting design (by Jared A. Sayeg), which captures the exotic allure of a tropical locale and a soundscape (by Julie Ferrin) that helps to transport us to this faraway place, we are treated to a dozen and a half or so of song and dance routines, which are at various times rousing, heartbreaking , cute and insightful – or a combination of these qualities.

Set in World War Two, “South Pacific” is a love story, a war story and a songfest. John Cudia embodies Emile De Becque – a French expatriate — with dignity, nobility and sensuality. De Becque is harboring a guilty conscious and a lonely heart. Cudia’s rich baritone graces us with melancholic interpretations of the songs “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Was Nearly Mine.” De Becque has fallen in love with a much younger navy nurse, Ensign Nellie Forbrush, well-played by Stephanie Renee Wall. Her rendition of “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” is a highlight of this production.

The scenarios of “South Pacific” unfold – thanks to a smart book, well-placed singing and dancing displays and keen directorial and choreographic sensibilities – with energetic effectiveness. What is especially poignant is the combination of topical issues such as race and sexuality, which remain resonate today, along with skilled theatrical entertainment. For instance, Alabama born and reared Nellie is taken aback when she discovers that her would-be fiancé, Emile De Becque, has two young children from his now deceased Polynesian wife (the youngsters are charmingly portrayed by Araceli Pararttongosoth as Ngana, the daughter; and Lucas Jaye as Jerome the son).

Another example of the intertwining of ethnic bloodlines straining social acceptance is the relationship between Lieutenant Joseph Cable (Matt Rosell in terrific tenor form signing “Younger Than Springtime” and listen for the message in his character’s signature song “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”) and Lait (lovely Hajin Cho), a native of the islands. Doom is in the air.

As the local con woman, Jodi Kimura is a delightfully irascible and unexpectedly witty Bloody Mary. Kimura delivers a definitive recital of arguably the most noted song in the highly noted musical score, “Bali Ha’i.”

It would be a dereliction of duty not to give honorable mention to all the character actors and divine dancers that decorate this colorful staging, including Michael Rothhaar as gregarious navy captain George Brackett and Jeff Skowron as the ethically questionable but enterprising Petty Officer Luther Billis. 

Though “South Pacific” is set in a place and time that seems long ago, the cast and crew of this La Mirada Theatre production bring the characters and circumstances into vivid existence.

“South Pacific” continues at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts through May 13. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. On Fridays and Saturdays evening showtimes are at 8 p.m. Matinees are Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts is located at 14900 the La Mirada Blvd.

For reservations call (562)944-9801 or (714)994-6310. For online ticketing and further information visit www.lamiradatheatre.com.

ben@beachcomber.news

 

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