“South Pacific”

Highly Recommended *****

 There are times, when viewing one of the modern-day musicals, that I think back to my earliest years of theater and the  works of men like Rodgers and Hammerstein, who gave us some of the greatest musicals ever. When one of our theaters opts to add one of these “oldies, yet goodies” to their season, I am reminded “we have seen this a dozen times. Why see it again”! I have said over and over again, each production, although it is the same play, is unique, which is the beauty of “live theater”. A different perspective from the director or choreographer, different actors, a different venue and guess what- a different show!

That being said, tonight we went to Drury Lane Oakbrook’s opening night performance of “South Pacific”, the Rodgers and Hammerstein II musical version of James Michener’s “Tales of The South Pacific” with a book by Joshua Logan ( in partnership with Hammerstein II). This is a landmark musical of gigantic proportion in the subject matter and the time written. It was back in the 1950’s. The story deals with patriotism, loss and racial prejudice during war-time. While many think of the setting as a tropical paradise, it was a period of war and while we were anticipating more problems from the Japanese, America knew that we had to resolve the situation for the people of the area and our country. 1950! That is the year this story was an award-winner, only a few years after the war had been put to its ending. Yet, the hatred, fear and prejudices that came from this war, were unresolved for many of the participants and in general, Americans.

Yes, the story has romance, but in a way that many might perceive as lust over love, and yet , even when true love is discovered by several characters, it is because of race that it appears that love cannot triumph over all else. This is a major part of “South Pacific”. Directed to perfection by Victor Malana Maog, with a solid cast of newcomers to the Drury Lane stage and a few of Chicago’s favorite character actors, I found this to be one of the shortest 2 hours-45 minutes of musical theater out there. Partly because of the quality of the show, partly because of the talent that Drury Lane has assembled and mostly because it is a musical that has withstood the  times and still stands out as one that should be seen by everyone!

In the role of Nellie Forbush, the nurse from “little Rock” ( an amazing performance by Samantha Hill) who falls in love with the smooth, plantation owner Emile de Becque ( a masterful performance by Robert Cuccioli, whose voice will amaze you), but cannot see the truth because he has children of another “color” from his late wife, a Polynesian. While we see the chemistry in their early scenes, we know that this is a love that cannot survive the pressures of our American lifestyle. Or can it?

The other love story is that of a young Marine, Lt. Joseph Cable (deftly handled by Austin Colby) and young Liat (a sweet portrayal by Sarah Lo). Liat is the  daughter of Bloody Mary ( powerfully played by Yvonne Strumecki) who does a great “Bali Ha’i”.,and a lovingly sweet “Happy Talk” with Ms Lo. Colby’s “Younger Than Springtime” is a delight and his”You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” ( which truly tells us its own story)is  very powerful. In fact, the success of “South Pacific” is its musical score. “Cockeyed Optimist”, “Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair”, “Bloody Mary”, “Nothing Like A Dame”, “Some Enchanted Evening” , “Honey Bun”, “This Nearly Was Mine” ( when Emile sings this one, you will need at least two tissues) and the twin Soliloquies that bring Nellie and Emile’s attraction to light. How can any play with this many great songs not be a guaranteed hit? Well, they still have to have the voices to pull it off, and this cast does.

Lt.Billis ( Chicago favorite funny song and dance man, Matt Crowle), is surrounded by some powerful ensemble members, Harter Clingman ,Sam Shankman, Nathaniel Braga, Joe Capstick, Matt Casey, John Gurdian, Brandon Pisano, Patrick Michael Tierney and Denzel Tsopnang. The women ensemble members behind Ms Hill are :Blair Beasley, Kayla Boyle, Erica Evans, Ashley Lanyon, Rachel Osting, Allie Pizzo and Erica Stephan. The two officers are played by  Elic Bramlett and Matthew Keffer and Emile’s houseman by Peter Sipla. The kids (very cute) are played by the adorable Hunter DiMalig and Rika Nishikawa  (with alternate performances handled by Miles S. Chongand Rachel Cornille.

As always , the musical direction is by Roberta Duchak, The choreography by Otis Sallid is a little more modern than I have seen in past productions, and while it is more modern, it never swayed from the original intent-to tell a story of the times! The set ( Scott Davis) is powerful and yet simple, the costumes (Olivera Gajic) authentic looking-in particular the bathing suits of the 50’s ( I think my mom wore one of those), and the lighting (Yael Lubetzky) and sound (Ray Nardelli) sheer perfection. Cassy Shillo managed to find props that were of the time period, thus very realistic, and the Drury Lane Orchestra conducted by Christopher Sargent, perfect. It is hard to believe that less that 11 musicians made this Rodgers and Hammerstein II musical sound as if there was a full 28 piece orchestra in the pit. Great work!

South Pacific” will continue at Drury Lane Oakbrook, located in Oak  Brook Terrace at 100 Drury Lane thru June 17th, with performances as follows:

Wednesdays  1:30 p.m.

Thursdays  1″30 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Fridays  8 p.m.

Saturdays  5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

Sundays  2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Tickets range from $47- $62 with special discounts for students and seniors to order yours, stop by the box office, call 630-530-0111, Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000 or visit http://www,DruryLaneTheatre.com

There is plenty of free parking as well as valet parking. There is dinner and lunch packages available as well

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “South Pacific”.