Feb 14, 2018
by Alexa Chipman
Basking in tropical sunshine, “South Pacific” is set during World War II on an idyllic island. Restless sailors have been left to their own devices, until a marine lieutenant arrives with a daring plan to spy on the enemy fleet. Necessity brings together a diverse gathering of Americans, French, and the native population, which appear to be in harmony until romance blossoms, triggering the internalized racism simmering below the surface and ripping apart the lovers in self-imposed pain.
Haunting music by Rodgers and Hammerstein wafts to “Bali Ha’i” and the flirtatious “There Is Nothing Like A Dame” with a live orchestra led by Nancy Hayashibara. Relying on projections of palm trees and rippling waves from Chris Schloemp, the set design provides grounding elements of garden furnishings, a plumeria festooned bower, and the navy operations shack with radio set and chart table, designed by Elizabeth Bazzano and Eddy Hansen. Sunset hues of coral and amber are cast in lighting design by Hansen, complementing the delicate 1940s gowns and bashful swimsuits of the nurses created by Pamela Enz and Pat Fitzgerald.
Heather Buck is bewitching as Ensign Nellie Forbush, navigating the giddy turmoil of falling in love while combatting her reactionary loathing for mixed-race children that she knows is wrong, bringing her character into a place of acceptance. William O’Neill brings out the intense passion that Emile de Becque clings to, with a superb rendition of “Some Enchanted Evening.”
Directors Jim Coleman and Sheri Lee Miller sprinkle comedic touches throughout the ensemble, such as Dinah (Aimee Ouellette) jogging past in the background, constantly snacking on hot dogs and bananas while ignoring the catcalling sailors. Spreckels has brought together an effective cast, from the adorable children of Emile (Vita Sharrett and Jasmine Cascio) doing handstands on the table, to Jeff Coté (Captain Brackett) secretly dancing in a grass skirt, and continual antics by Rusty Thompson (Luther Billis) in a never-ending quest for unique souvenirs.
Deliciously romantic, with a touch of sorrow, “South Pacific” is a classic musical filled with memorable songs, urging us to look past prejudice toward a hopeful future. Director Coleman calls it “full of humanity” as characters wrestle with assumptions and guilt through the brilliant score. Spreckels Theatre Company’s production is tender and beautifully sung. Sail to the mysterious island of Bali Ha’i for an evening of starry-eyed love “as corny as Kansas in August.”
Photos by Eric Chazankin
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