When the 2015 season was announced about a year ago and I saw that South Pacific was on the list, I looked forward to the opening with great anticipation. This Rodgers and Hammerstein classic from 1949 has been a favorite of mine since I saw the film version in 1958, when I was 9 years old. My aunt owned the soundtrack LP and when I visited her I nearly always gave it a listen and did so frequently enough that I still know most of the words to the wonderful songs in the score.
Beef and Boards presents an entertaining version of the landmark show, but it is with this hardwired memory of the film version and my resultant love of the score that I make my comparisons and evaluations. I was exposed to South Pacific at such a formative time in my life, it has never left me, and indeed I can say it raised my interest in theatre to a higher level, just by the appreciation I felt for it.
As always, B&B finds immensely talented performers for it’s shows, especially in the lead roles. Two first-time B&B performers, Robert Wilde as Emile de Becque and Mickey Rafalski as Lt. Cable, are brilliant in their portrayals. Wilde brings a distinguished bass voiced quality to his handsome de Becque, especially in his rendition of “Some Enchanted Evening” and Rafalski, who has a marvelous tenor voice one could listen to all evening (and who looked a LOT like Brad Pitt from my seat on the third tier) enchants us with a powerful “Younger Than Springtime”. B&B veteran Deb Wims repeats her role as Nellie Forbush – giving us a girlish, unsophisticated portrayal and winning us over with fine performances of Nellie’s catalogue of songs. Cynthia Thomas uses her strong voice to portray Bloody Mary as a no nonsense profiteer. While she provided a rather enjoyably unique version of “Happy Talk”, I felt we may have missed some of the mysterious possibilities in her offering of “Bali Ha’i”.
B&B favorite Jeff Stockberger fills the stage with his Luther Billis, the Bilkoesque sailor striving for fun and profit. Stockberger loads his character with dozens of schticks and expressions, capping it all off with an enlarged bit of physical comedy that stops the show.
In smaller roles, Bob Payne and Adam Crowe as Captain Brackett and Commander Harbison, respectively, do admirable work. So too the supporting Seabees – Doug King, Aaron Choi, A.J. Morrison, Craig Underwood, Samuel McKanney, and nurses Sally Scharbrough, Amanda Lehman, Amy Owens, and Annalee Traeger. Ian Gamble and Anjali Rooney are sweet as the de Becque children. Arrianne Villareal provides a solid and lovely Liat.
Of course, we are all accustomed to the small stage aspect that B&B must deal with in presenting large format shows such as Les Miserables and South Pacific. As in the former, I thought an ingenious bit of design work by Michael Layton gave adequate space to all the settings in the present offering – de Becque’s mansion, the Captain’s office, as well as various beach areas and stages. Likewise, the costuming by Jill Kelly came through smartly with the correct blend of military blandness and colorful island flair. And the smallish band, led by Kristy Templet, provided the score with an apt adroitness.
Given all these impressive parts of the show, I fear I hold the musical too dear to have been totally satisfied by what I saw here. But, I realize it perhaps could not be presented differently. For example – I felt the action was a bit rushed throughout, with a quickened pace in most of the scenes. This resulted in my feeling that the main relationships, those between de Becque and Nellie, and between Lt. Cable and Liat, seemed lacking in fervor and emotion as time was not often given to portray anything but a quick warmth. This I am guessing is Liz Stark, the director, trying to make a very long musical shortened to a comfortable 2 hours and 15 minutes. She accomplished that, but at the cost, I feel, of a fullness to the romantic facets of the stories. That, to me, is what the production mainly lacked – the romance that is such a large part of the story arc and which provides the pay-offs at the end – for Liat’s sadness and for Nellie’s joy. I understand the tradeoff – but regret it has to be so.
Bottom line: Really fine performances, a very good selection on Chef Ward’s buffet and beautiful set design and costuming, are slightly undone by a pace that is often too rapid to allow things to develop in the storyline. An enjoyable evening, nonetheless, but my expectations from having loved the show since childhood go unmet.
South Pacific continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through October 4th. Show times and reservations can be obtained at http://www.beefandboards.com or by calling 317-872-9664.
- – Photos by Julie Curry