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Monday, 01 July 2019 23:06

With A-plus musical score, play masterfully shows ‘you’ve got to be taught’ racism, cultural bias

“Most people live on a lonely island,
Lost in the middle of a foggy sea.
Most people long for another island,
One where they know they will like to be.....”
 — From the song “Bali Ha’i” by Rodgers & Hammerstein 


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FLAT ROCK — The Flat Rock Playhouse production of “South Pacific,” which runs through July 6, provides an exhilarating musical and visual experience that is not to be missed.

From this reviewer’s perspective, the show performed on June 15 was one of the best productions that the FRP — North Carolina’s legislatively designated “state theatre” — has staged in the last 15 years or so, since the Daily Planet was launched.

The acting, the singing, the choreography, the costumes and the sets were top-notch.

Alas, the air conditioning was cranked up in the theater on the night of this review to such a frigid level that a companion and others around us scrambled for jackets and sweaters at the intermission. 

One might only guess that the FRP was trying to keep its hard-working performers cool during the high-intensity show....

The only other criticism was the lack of live music to accompany the stellar singers. Instead, recorded music was used. 

It is likely the addition of a paid orchestra or band, even a relatively small one, might have put the show in the red, financially. But a live band would have given this otherwise smashing show the ultimate stamp of authenticity.

As always with “South Paciufic,” arguably the greatest-ever musical with more songs than any other to be adopted permanently in the American songbook (and this reviewer’s personal favorite, just barely edging out “Singin’ in the Rain”), the show is worth atttending, if for no other reason than to hear the lush deep baritone operatic vocals by Andrew O’Shanick, who plays the co-lead role of well-read and culturally sophisticated French planter Emile De Becque.

He becomes inescapably romantically entwined with lovable-but-rough-around-the-edges nurse Nellie Forbush (Sara Stevens, in the co-lead role), who initially is saddled with small-town prejudices, but is amazed to find those from other lands and different from her (racially and/or cutlurally) to be  interesting and charming.  As such, Nellie grows ever more tolerant and, hence, lovable, as a character. 

What’s more, Stevens, brimming with vitality and talent, sparkles in her role, too.

Based on James Michener’s 1948 Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Tales of the South Pacific,” which is a collection of sequentially related short stories about the Pacific campaign in World War II. The truths it reveals are truly timeless — and worth reviewing about 70 years later.

“South Pacific,” first produced on Broadway in 1949, with songs by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist-dramatist Oscar Hammerstein, tells the story of two couples on an island in the South Pacific during World War II. 

A young American nurse falls in love with a middle-aged expatriate French plantation owner, while a U.S. lieutenant and young Tonkinese woman spark a new romance.

In an event promotion, the FRP said of the show’s plot, “Both relationships must overcome the insecurities and fears of possible social consequences, should these diverse couples marry. Their struggles are heightened by the ongoing war that brought them together and may tear them apart forever. A vibrant community ensemble of fellow nurses, soldiers, children, and locals weave these romances together.”

Upon its premier, “South Pacific” became an immediate success. The production won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950. 

What’s more, “South Pacific” came in second to Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s other huge hit, “Oklahoma!” for the longest running production at that point. Following a 2008 revival, the show won seven Tony Awards and was nominated in an additional four categories. 

Besides “South Pacific” and “Oklahoma!” Rodgers and Hammerstein also created smash Broadway hits such as “Carousel,” “The Sound of Music,”  “The King and I,” “State Fair” and “A Grand Night for Singing,” to name a few.

Interestingly, this production’s artistic director, Lisa Bryant, came full circle with the show, inasmuch as she acted in the lead role of Nellie in the FRP’s 2002 production of “South Pacific,” and now she is directing it.

Popular hits from “South Pacific” include “Bal’i Ha’i,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair,” “Some Enchanted Evening” and “There Is Nothing Like a Dame.”

Besides the excellent work by the director, others making significant behind-the-curtain contributions to the show were Matthew Glover, who served as choreographer; Maddie Franke as dance captain; and Briana Stone as assistant dance captains. 

For perhaps the greatest musical of all-time, Alex Shields delivered as this production’s music director. Also, providing exceptional contributions as scenic, lighting, costume, sound and projection design, respectively, were Dennis C. Maulden, CJ Barnwell, Ashli Arnold Crump, David Gerena, and Patrick W. Lord. In addition, Cassidy Bowles excelled with design of the properties.

“South Pacific,” which runs through July 6, is performed at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, at 8 p.m. Fridays, at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays at 2 p.m. Sundays

The FRP’s next productions are “Separate Beds,” July 11-20; and the Elvis-themed musical “All Shook Up,” July 26-Aug.18.



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