South Pacific, the Rodgers and Hammerstein WWII musical is in port at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, Maryland through March 20, 2016.
Even though the play revolves around members of the United States Navy and Marines who are stationed on a South Pacific island during World War II, you won’t see on stage any gun fights or bomb explosions. South Pacific, instead challenges the audience to look at the battle relevant to each and every human around the globe, racism. Rodgers and Hammerstein clearly understood that racism was just as harmful as any gun shot or bomb launched during WWII.
Messages about racism in the story of ‘South Pacific’ are in the forefront, adding a dark side to the otherwise sunny island.
Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning novel Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener, the plot of South Pacific centers on Nellie Forbush (played by a fiery Teresa Dansky), a young Navy nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas, who meets and falls in love with Emile de Becque (a vocally commanding Russell Rinker), a mature French plantation owner. He confesses to Nellie that the reason he had to flee France was because he killed a man. Nellie is able to accept the fact that Emile killed a man, but struggles to accept his mixed-race children, Ngana (Anna Jachero/Dulcie Pham) and her younger brother Jerome (Aiden Levin/Nathan Pham).
A secondary romance, between U.S. Lieutenant Joseph Cable (a handsome, strong, yet vulnerable Jonathan Helwig) and a very young Tonkinese woman Liat (played by an exotic, enchanting, and delicate Surasree Das), daughter of Bloody Mary (Crystal Freeman) explores Cable’s fears of the social consequences should he marry someone outside of his own race.
Beyond the serious social issues, South Pacific is also seriously fun and humorous.
The Seabees and sailors led by scene-stealer Jeffrey Shankle as Luther Billis deliver high-octane renditions of “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame” and “Bloody Mary,” while the beautiful nurses have fun with “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” (Yes, Nellie’s hair actually gets washed!) and “A Wonderful Guy.”
Crystal Freeman gives an exceptionally fine performance as Bloody Mary, the brassy, shrewd souvenir dealer who is also trying to find her daughter a rich husband. Robert Biedermann 125 and David Bosley-Reynolds add life and charisma to the often forgettable characters of Captain George Brackett and Commander William Harbison.
Instrumental music-wise, it is always a blessing when there is live music accompanying the vocals to any theatrical production. Here musical director Reenie Codelka leads the band of talented musicians. While the sound of the band was fine, adding strings and a harp would have added more mystery and enchantment to the arrangements, especially to the songs “Some Enchanted Evening” and “Bali Ha’i.”
The costumes by Lawrence B. Munsey (or lack thereof, noting Cable’s shirtless attire during the sensual scene inside of a native hut with Liat) are colorful, eyecatching, and fit the time-period appropriately. The set and light design by David A. Hopkins will take you out of our snow-filled world and into the warm and sunny South Pacific. The show makes us feel so warm inside that we wish that Nellie would splash some of her water on us from the shower scene.
Director Mark Minnick’s vision for South Pacific is clear and concise. There is a deep focus on making the characters realistic, human, and fallible. Messages about racism in the story of South Pacific are in the forefront, adding a dark side to the otherwise sunny island.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours 30 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission.
South Pacific plays through March 20, 2016 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia— 5900 Symphony Woods Road in Columbia, MD. Reservations are required at (301) 596-6161, (410) 730-8311, or 800-88TOBYS . For information and a schedule go online.