By Richard Rogers & Oscar Hammerstein II
Performed by Cynthia Dale, Theodore Baerg & company
Director & Choreographer Michael Lichtefeld
Stratford Festival of Canada
May 1 – October 28, 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Musical highlights love, war & racism
Some might try to dismiss South Pacific as another light Rogers & Hammerstien musical, but there is much going on here –the plot covers some very difficult subject matter – lost love, war and the issue of racism.
The Avon Theatre’s production of South Pacific is excellent with fascinating attention to detail. War planes drone over head, American characters speak with many different accents from many different states, and a beautiful set takes us away to a Polynesian paradise. The story, set in World War II, shows what happens when young sailors and nurses are whisked away to different world in a potentially tense situation.
The main character, Nellie, falls in love, but then 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 seaman falls in love with a Polynesian girl, but flatly rejects the suggestion of marriage based on her race.
Cynthia Dale has the opportunity to show off her quirky flair for comedy in the role of Nellie Forbush, a self-described “hick” from Little Rock, Arkansas. Dale shines in this role, probably better suited to her than some of the others she’s had in Stratford. If you haven’t seen Dale in a Stratford musical, then possibly you’ll remember her as the arrogant Olivia in CBC-TV’s Street Legal. As well as some comedic moments, Dale endears the audience with her singing and dancing.
Theoedore Baerg as Emile de Becque is the other audience favourite. His rich voice seems able to hit any note on the scale, and his rendition of “Some Enchanted Evening” was a highlight.
Brian McKay is excellent as Captain George Brackett, easily sustaining a slight American twang. . He is well known locally for his work at Huron Country Playhouse and for his role as the drunk in Confessions of a Dirty Blonde at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia.
Luther Billis (Bruce Dow) and Bloody Mary (Grace Chan) provide the comic relief and both are very entertaining.
There are two dance numbers that really stand out in this production: In There is Nothing like a Dame, the company of young sailors sing and dance their way around a real Jeep on stage. Later, the nurses head for the showers in I’m gonna Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair where they tap dance in the shallow pool that forms on the shower floor, making a delightful spray.
The Thanksgiving Follies are great fun, showing some fine acrobatic talent in a variety show, to help the Americans pass the time while waiting for the war action to begin.
This Broadway classic, first staged in 1949, continues to offer great music, a fascinating love story, and intrigue, all in an exotic setting. The good news is, we don’t have to travel to New York to see a first-rate production – it’s close by in our very own Stratford. Tickets are selling out quickly for this popular show.
South Pacific continues in repertoire at the Avon Theatre, Stratford until October 28. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check www.stratfordfestival.ca.