Isn’t is lovely to be able to whisk like an ocean breeze over trauma and casualty with a rapturous evening of idyllic dramedy and song? The chatoyant of melody, romance, and Palm trees…
Rogers & Hammerstein’s legendary lyrics (I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair, Some Enchanted Evening, Younger Than Springtime, There Is Nothing Like A Dame) certainly gloss over a terrible chapter of 20th century history plunged into an external World War II and internal ingrained cultural prejudice.
Rogers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts is captivating and delightful by all accounts, made so in no small measure by leads Stephanie Renee Wall as Ensign Nellie Forbush and John Cudia as Emile de Becque, as well as the comic effects of Jodi Kimura as (Tonkinese) ‘Bloody Mary’ and Jeff Skowron as Luther Billis along with each member of the cast. Yet, for all the beauty and heartstring-pulling love affairs, ticklish teasers and silly shenanigans, for a younger, audience living in today’s political climate, there is no getting around the racism. It projects as loudly and as clearly as the musical numbers here, as it might have in its 1945 Broadway hit debut. Perhaps then, with not as much inclination. But it is right there, front and center.
The story centers on an American nurse stationed on a South Pacific island during World War II, who falls in love with a middle-aged expatriate French plantation owner, but struggles to accept his mixed-race children.
A secondary romance also develops between a young U.S. Marine officer, Lt. Joseph Cable (Matt Rosell) and a Tonkinese girl, Liat (Hajin Cho) coincidentally the daughter of Bloody Mary, which explores Cable’s fears of the social conflicts and consequences of marrying an Asian girl.
Of course there is no dampening the camaraderie of different people living in close quarters, the shared experiences, the sensuality of the lovers, the difficult decisions everyone makes and all of the the ineffable wants and needs in this exhilarating and absolutely lovely McCoy Rigby big-musical production with nothing spared in beautiful set presentation or musical orchestration.
South Pacific is incredibly heartbreaking. Everyone is facing the possibility of loss – by either death in the war, or an empty life – the prospect of hearts’ desires unfulfilled, being worse. And for those who retreat even only temporarily into their cultural prejudices, forsaking the people they truly love and with whom they share friendship, the reckoning is fierce.
For the dreamers who hear their own hearts though, there will always be Bali H’ai…
Beautifully directed by Glenn Casale with rousing choreography by Peggy Hicks and musical direction by Brent Crayon.
Starring: John Cudia (Emile), Stephanie Wall (Nellie), Jeff Skowron (Luther), Jodi Kimura (Bloody Mary), Matt Rosell (Lt. Cable), Hajin Cho (Liat), Araceli Prasarttongosoth (Ngana), Lucas Jaye (Jerome), Michael Rothhaar (Captain Brackett), Brent Schindele (Cmdr. Harbison), Marc Ginsburg (Stewpot) and Shannon Stoeke (The Professor).
With Ensemble: Kim Arnett, Brittany Bentley, Richard Bulda, Caitlyn Calfas, Justin Charles Cowden, Adam Lendermon, Carolyn Lupin, Dino Nicandros, Katie Perry, Jake Saenz, Brian Steven Shaw and Alissa Tucker.
Scenic Design: Robert Kovach
Lighting Design: Jared A. Sayeg
Sound Design: Julie Ferrin
Costume Design: Mary Folino
Hair/Wig/Makeup Design: Elizabeth Bohks
Props Design: Walnut St. Theatre & Kevin Williams
Photo (above) by Austin Bauman: Stephanie Wall and John Cudia star in the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts & McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of ‘South Pacific’.