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Theater Review: ‘South Pacific’ is an enchanted evening

By KIM COOL

Venice Gondolier

October 31, 2018

After all these years, there are still lessons to be learned from “South Pacific,” the musical that opened Friday on the main stage at Venice Theatre.

Created by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the Tony Award-winning musical opened on Broadway in 1949.

Set on two idyllic islands in the South Pacific during World War II, the musical contained not one but two interracial love stories. It was somewhat scandalous in 1949 and even in 1958 when the film version came out.

This may be a glorious and fun musical but it is one that had a message when written and continues to have that message today.

“You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” is one song that everyone should listen to very carefully. We are all people and the other stuff is just “stuff.”

Lt. Joseph Cable (Brian Rudolph) sings that song as he grapples with his love for Liat (Ariella Corinne Pizarro Daniel), a Polynesian girl who is the daughter of “Bloody Mary” (Candace Artim). Bloody Mary pushes the match even as Cable wrestles with his stateside upbringing that would make such a union taboo.

Rudolph’s performance is as sensitive as Artim’s is “off the wall and in your face” dynamic and a show-stealer.

Artim talk-sings the lyrics to the song but that only adds to her performance. She has the meatiest part in the show and she makes the most of it.

The other love story actually is the main subject of the show — that of Ensign Nellie Forbush (Sarah Cassidy) and Emile de Becque (Joseph Giglia), a wealthy, widowed planter.

De Beque came to the islands from France, married a native woman and has two children, Ngana (Sophia Soriana and Lily Culver-Wollastan) and Jerome (Sebastian Lopez and Will Pierre). The youngsters alternate performances in their respective roles. Jonathan McGowan portrays Henry, de Beque’s manservant/houseman.

Nellie falls in love with Emile but when she learns about his biracial children, her southern U.S. upbringing brings up the same thoughts that Cable must wrestle with.

As if that is not enough to think about, the story takes place near the end of World War II. A dangerous mission that puts the lives of Cable and de Becque at risk can end the war sooner but not without endangering their lives.

Some musical! Where is the entertainment value? Thanks to the wonderful music and lyrics of Rodgers and Hammerstein and the direction and choreography of Brad Wages, “South Pacific” remains one of the all-time greatest musicals and one of the best ever performed at Venice Theatre.

From the beginning song, “Dites-Moi,” sung by de Beque’s children, to such songs as “A Cockeyed Optimist” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair,” sung by Nellie, to the hilarious “Honey Bun” at the Thanksgiving Follies, there’s plenty to hum or even belt out loud on your way home from the theater.

Add “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine,” sung by de Beque, and “Bali Hai,” performed by Bloody Mary, and there is little doubt that “South Pacific” is one of the all-time best musicals.

“South Pacific” requires a huge, multi-talented cast; a major set (Tim Wisgerof); great costumes (Jeanette Rybicki and Adam-Bobby Farman); musical direction (Rick Bogner); lighting (John Michael Andzulis); and stage management (Sue Brennen). Fortunately, Venice Theatre has that and more.

Liberal doses of humor are provided by Jeff Cima as Luther Billis, Gavin J. King as Stewpot, Tim Garner as Professor, Luke Dumbroski as Lt. Buzz Adams and Casey Berkery as Yeoman Herbert Quale.

Angela Benardo, Lisa Figueroa and Stacy Gilson portray the other nurses, with Morgan Carlson as the shore patrolman, Dennis Berkery as Capt. George Brackett and John Russo as Commander.

The ensemble consists of Rebecca Cross, Leeson Foullon, Kenneth Glesge, Claudia Hassler, Noah Roderiques, Elicia Sacco and Olivia Turpenang.

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