Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Narrows Community Theater's production of South Pacific at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Narrows Community Theater's production of South Pacific at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

South Pacific
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Oscar Hammerstein II & Joshua Logan
Adapted from James A. Michener's "Tales Of The South Pacific"
Directed by Michael Chase Gosselin
Musical Director: Paolo C. Perez
Costume Directors: MaryJo Tipaldo & Rita Donahue
Narrows Community Theater
Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater
101st Street & Fort Hamilton Parkway
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY 11209
Reviewed 11/14/15 

The musical South Pacific opened on Broadway on April 7, 1949 at the Majestic Theatre. It was transferred to the Broadway Theatre in June, 1953 to accommodate Rodgers and Hammerstein's new show Me & Juliet, although South Pacific had to be moved to Boston for five weeks because of schedule conflicts. When it closed on January 16, 1954, after 1,925 performances, it was the second-longest-running musical in Broadway history, after Oklahoma!. It won ten Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Male Performer (Ezio Pinza), Best Female Performer (Mary Martin), Best Supporting Male Performer (Myron McCormick), Best Supporting Female Performer (Juanita Hall), Best Director (Joshua Logan), Best Libreto (Oscar Hammerstein II & Joshua Logan) and Best Score (Richard Rodgers). In 1950, the musical won the Pulitzer Price For Drama, the second musical to do so after Of Thee I Sing, which won in 1932. The 2008 Broadway revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center's Beaumont Theater opened on March 1, 2008, closing on August 22, 2010 after 996 performances. It won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical Revival.

South Pacific, based on James A. Michener's 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Tales Of The South Pacific," combines elements of many of the nineteen stories told in that book. The plot of the musical centers around Nellie Forbush, a young American nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas stationed on a South Pacific island during World War II, who falls in love with Emile de Becque, a middle-aged expatriate French plantation owner who married a Polynesian woman, now deceased, and is bringing up his two mixed-race children as a single parent. The children are cute, but Nelly struggles to imagine having sexual intercourse with a man who once had a colored woman as his wife. A secondary romance between Lt. Joseph Cable (U.S. Marine Corps) and Liat, a young Tonkinese woman (the daughter of Bloody Mary), is used to explore the reasons behind the lieutenant's refusal to marry her once he is reminded by Bloody Mary about the "beautiful" children their union would produce. Nellie seems to believe that her prejudice is in her genes but when asked to back her up, Lt. Cable sings the very memorable song, "You Have To Be Carefully Taught." The character Bloody Mary in the musical is based on a woman Michener met on a plantation on the island of Espiritu Santo, who he described as "small, almost toothless, and with a face stained with red betel juice." Punctuated with profanity learned from GIs, she complained endlessly about the French colonial government, which refused to allow her and other Tonkinese to return to their native Vietnam, lest the plantations be depopulated. In addition, several of Michener's stories involve the Seabee Luther Billis, who is used in the musical for comic relief and also to tie together episodes involving otherwise unconnected characters.

The Narrows Community Theater's production of South Pacific was a huge success! Top-notch entertainment at its very best! A beautiful theater, reasonably priced concession items, friendly staff, free convenient parking, professional actors, talented musicians, a remarkable set, beautiful costumes and high production value all came together to create an evening that left most of the 300+ audience members talking about how this presentation of South Pacific was significantly better than the 2008 Broadway revival at Lincoln Center that won seven Tony Awards. I would have to agree with that evaluation regarding the quality of this show. 

Every cast member contributed to making this show one that will be remembered for years. However, a few actors are worthy of special note. Keith Gregor, a handsome man with a beautiful voice, was perfect in the role of Emile de Becque, the middle-aged French expatriate plantation owner. Maranda Rossi nailed the part of Ensign Nellie Forbush, the bright-eyed small-town girl conflicted over her attraction to Emile. Hiroko Yonekura was extraordinary and charismatic as Bloody Mary, a shrewd souvenir dealer, who is trying to find Liat, her daughter, a rich husband. Bennett Silverman was a natural in the role of Luther Billis, a scheming, shlubby Seabee, who is a mediocre entrepreneur and a friend to all. However, I suspect this crowd-pleasing performer only needed to be himself in order to be successful in the role. For example, I doubt he needed to "put on" a heavy Jewish accent and I suspect that his character, who was very good with "pleats," was more interested in procuring souvenirs on Bali Ha'i than he was in sleeping with women. But then again, the musical South Pacific opened in the late 1940s when openly gay servicemen would not have been accepted. Brian Kilday was very impressive as Commander William Harbison, U.S. Navy. He had a strong stage presence and is obviously a very talented young actor. Maximilian Baudisch was very believable as Lt. Joseph Cable, U.S. Marine Corps and, as such, made a significant contribution to making this musical thought-provoking and realistic. Beyond racism, issues of significant age differences between lovers is addressed coming out in favor of true love, whatever the ages of two partners may be. I look forward to seeing more of the work of Brian Kilday and Maximilian Baudisch. Nicholas Bonaparte, who played Marine Sergeant Thomas Hassinger, was about to show off his muscular body and weightlifting prowess during the Thanksgiving show when the lights, in accordance with the script, went out. This was certainly a disappointment for the audience who longed to see more of this talented young man. 

I would like to acknowledge that a production of this quality does not come off without significant contributions from the show's creative team; that includes everyone who was responsible for the costumes, set, and sound. Michael Chase Gosselin deserves special recognition for his work as Director, Choreographer, and Lighting & Projection Designer. I was also particularly impressed with the talent and skill of Paolo C. Perez, the Music Director, who led the orchestra and brought the songs of South Pacific to life. For the handful of people who have been living under a rock or in a cave for the past 66 years and are unfamiliar with the popular numbers featured in this musical, I will mention that some of them include: "A Cockeyed Optimist," "Some Enchanted Evening," "Bloody Mary," "There Is Nothing Like A Dame," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair," "A Wonderful Guy," "Younger Than Springtime," "Happy Talk," "Honey Bun,", "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught," and "This Nearly Was Mine." 

The next production of Narrows Community Theater will be Men Are Dogs, which will be performed from February 19-28, 2016 in the Auditorium of St. Patrick Catholic Academy located at 401 97th Street, Brooklyn, New York 11209. For tickets and more information about Narrows Community Theater, visit their website at http://narrowscommunitytheater.com/   

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