I thought I knew everything about this show, but learned that there was much more I didn’t. I had no idea that “South Pacific” was based on a book of fiction by James A. Michener, much of his history is based on real events. The play was considered extremely progressive in its discussion of race relations, and made more so by Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music and lyrics. Directed by Terry Spann, and produced by Christine Farrell and Jenna Moran, this 1940s love story unlocks the maleficence of bigotry and is as timely today as it was half a century ago. Musically directed by Mark A. Prioleau, the full orchestra filled the cathedral with live music, no taped recording for the St. Mark’s Players!
The intimacy of St Mark’s theatre allows actors to be so close as to be able to literally flirt with patrons. From downbeat to the finale, this production was dazzling. The story unfolds in a beautiful island during World War II, the military men and women stationed there are bored, not really seeing the fighting but biding their time trying to stay out of trouble while they experience this exotic land.
This cast is amazing, the harmonies unforgettable, and the choreography complex.
Veteran set designer Frank Mobilio, worked magic using a large movie screen front and center of the wicker-furnished, palm tree laden set. He compiled fantastic historic images then adding this cast into actual WWII photos or faux poses. While so many of the songs are fun and happy, “South Pacific” touches upon the world’s bigotry and we, with the help of Mr. Mobilio’s projection team Matthew Datcher, Heather Cipu and Ernie Molina, get to hear the recorded sounds of WWII airplanes and Morse Code, the cacophony of birds and wind. And while the army might have been on the stage, I assure you they were also behind the sets as Jerry M. Dale Jr. conducted the “non-orchestra.”
Really, folks, this cast has some of the best singers in the area! Blond bombshell Leslie Lewis deliciously portrays one the greatest female roles in musical theatre, Nurse Nellie Forbush. From her dazzling smile to her innocent charm, Leslie had me from her first luscious note in “A Cockeyed Optimist!” Emile De Becque, the handsome Frenchman played by John Cattaneo, lent his dulcet baritone voice to one of my favorite theater tunes of all time, “Some Enchanted Evening.” Bloody Mary, played by Tamieka Jones, is one of the enterprising women of the island and has the silky, sexy and vibrant tone of a true diva! “Bali Ha’i” is about love and mystery. I would have followed her into a volcano if she would lend me her voice for an afternoon! Rahsaan Jackson brings in a new character to our attention, as Bloody Mary’s able assistant.
When Lt. Cable, played by the elegant tenor Jerrod Laber graces the set as he meets Bloody Mary’s daughter, a beautiful native girl played by Regina Childs, he sings to her, “Younger Than Springtime.” I was swooning and later in the show he sings “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” a short song with a vital message, we are not born prejudiced. We are reminded by the well-placed marquis that intermarriage was illegal at this time in the United States.
The casting was great. Luther Billis played by Patrick McMahan, has the audience’s full attention doing his cross-dressing best, while he adorns a grass skirt and displays his cruise ship tattoo and lovely waistline. Fashions of the time, color, swing and beauty by Costume Designers Ceci Albert and Lisa Brownsword create nursing and military uniforms, as well as elegant and playful garb, easy to move and dance.
Running Time: 2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission.
“South Pacific” plays May 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, at 8 pm, 2018, May 19th 2 pm (matinée) at 301 A. St SE Washington, DC 20003 (parking is ample, GPS sent us to NE, 2 blocks away so be careful with that technology). For tickets and information, click here.