Wednesday, July 30, 2014

SOUTH PACIFIC at California Musical Theater

California Musical Theater

Maggi's review of South Pacific:
I read "Tales of the South Pacific" by James Mitchener, upon which the musical is based, previous to my trip which gave me a great foundation for what I was about to see. Published in 1946, each of the nineteen chapters deals with a different situation or character, many of which were incorporated into the musical. They're all there: from Nelly Forbush, Emile De Beque, Lt. Cable, Bloody Mary, Luther Billis, all fleshed out in such a way to make me understand them, their backgrounds and their motivations, all of which would be impossible to pack into a 2-1/2 hour show.

Oscar Hammerstein and Joshua Logan did a phenomenal job writing the script, gleaning the most important aspects of the book to tie them into a cohesive story. From what I've read, composing the music came easy to Richard Rodgers, who apparently wrote Bali Ha'i in ten minutes over coffee. Director Glenn Casale did a brilliant job on the difficult task of staging in the round. Aisles were used for scene changes while scenery was dropped from the ceiling to keep the action flowing seamlessly. But his best work was in the casting: he couldn't have chosen a better team to play each of the leads, and that includes Eric Kunze. Beth Malone is totally convincing as a Southern gal who wants to see the world, but is hampered by her "carefully taught" prejudices. It's easy to understand her infatuation with Emile (John Cudia). I, too, became infatuated with him when he opened his mouth to sing "Some Enchanted Evening", which echoed off the rafters. Ezio Pinza, the original Emile on Broadway, couldn't have done it better. Likable Jeff Skowron got most of the laughs as Luther, followed by Armelia McQueen (Bloody Mary), who got a laugh everytime she said "You like????"

Which brings us to Eric Kunze as Lt. Cable. Totally believable as a Princeton grad turned career officer, with a society girlfriend back home, my heart broke as he became besotted with the lovely Liat, under the spell of Bali Ha'i, that "special island". The book helped me to understand what soldiers far away from home go through, where most of their days are spent waiting for action, hot, many times ill, trying to find ways to alleviate the crushing boredom. It's no wonder infatuations occur. When reality hits and Bloody Mary insists he marry Liat, Cable is faced with his own prejudices. Coming back from the theater I had the sensation that I had been transported to a completely different world, visions of Bali Ha'i floating in my dreams. This show could be packed up and brought to the Broadway stage without one change. Congratulations to California Musical Theater, Glenn Casale and the entire cast for a great theatrical experience!