Love & Prejudice on a Tropical Island
South Pacific is a big musical: in true Rodgers and Hammerstein style it has everything. There’s comedy, tragedy, war story suspense, unrequited love, and a lesson in the evils of racism. The production, now on stage at Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend, does justice to this old musical theatre standard.
The story is set on a Polynesian island in the South Pacific, during World War II in the battle between Japan and the U.S. The American Navy is based on the island, shared with a plantation owner, Frenchman Emile de Becque.
The main character, an American nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas named Nellie, falls in love with the Frenchman. But then she tries to reject her suitor, only because he has two children who were mothered by a now dead Polynesian woman. Nellie’s racial prejudice won’t allow her to love this man. In a subplot, a young American lieutenant falls in love with a Polynesian girl, but flatly rejects the suggestion of marriage based on her race. In the war story, the Americans recruit the reluctant Frenchman to spy on the Japanese.
Chilina Kennedy, a favourite at the Stratford Festival, is perfect as Nellie, the cockeyed optimist. You will recognize her from her Stratford roles as Maria in West Side Story, and Eva Peron in Evita, among others. She appeared on Broadway as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar. She delights the audience with songs like “I’m in love with a wonderful guy”. She also has fun, showing her comedic skills with “I’m gonna wash that man right outa my hair’ and “Honeybun”. Her portrayal of Nellie’s Arkansas accent is charming.
Branch Fields has the deep full voice required for the beautiful showstopper song “Some Enchanted Evening”. But while his voice is lovely, he doesn’t elicit enough emotion when he’s not singing. His de Becque is very reserved and formal, which might work in the role, except that Nellie says that like her, he is“enthusiastic about things”. Fields fails to show that enthusiasm.
Liam Tobin as Lieutenant Cable sings “Younger than Springtime” beautifully. Genny Sermonia is perfect as Liat, his Polynesian girlfriend. The fate of the young lovers is captivating. Susan Dunstan as Bloody Mary and Salvatore Scozzari as Luther Billis provide the comedy.
Bell Lemieux-Chan and Tate Yap are adorable as the two Polynesian children. And a big shout-out to the entire ensemble: they fill the stage with activity and make many quick costume changes playing multiple roles. The Seabees have great fun with “There is nothing like a Dame”, and the entire cast is wonderful with their Thanksgiving Follies, creating some fun in the middle of a war before heading into a tense situation.
This is a great opportunity to enjoy some beautiful singing with very talented cast – don’t miss this chance to see Chilina Kennedy, leading lady extraordinaire.
South Pacific continues with eight shows a week until June 21 at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office: 519-238-6000 or Toll Free 1-855-372-9866, or check www.huroncountryplayhouse.com
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Oscar Hammerstein II & Joshua Logan
Directed & Choreographed by Michael Lichtefeld
Performed by Chilina Kennedy, Branch Fields et al.
Produced by Drayton Entertainment
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
June 8 to 21, 2014
Reviewed by Mary Alderson