Theatre Mirror Reviews - "South Pacific"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2005 by Tony Annicone

"South Pacific"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Fiddlehead Theatre Company's current show is Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1949 timeless classic "South Pacific" which takes you on a musical journey to the South Seas where romance, war and predjudice stir your emotions. The show swept the 1950 Tony Awards and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. The main storyline is of innocent, young, Navy ensign, Nellie Forbush falling in love with middle-aged French plantation owner, Emile De Becque during World War 2. It also contains the secondary plot of Lt. Joe Cable falling in love with a Tokinese girl, Liat, the daughter of Bloody Mary, the saleswoman of island wares. The predjudice of people is as important a message for people to overcome now as it was back then. Throw in assorted sailors, nurses, two children and two officers and you have the ingredients for this well made musical presentation. Director/choreographer Michael Hammond breathes new life into this show, bringing it alive to new audiences with his topnotch cast and his hardworking crew, earning it a well deserved standing ovation.

Michael blocks this enormous show wonderfully and his dance numbers are spectacular whether it be the sailors two numbers or the nurses two numbers or the jitterbug Thanksgiving dance. He captures their exuberance perfectly as well as the splendid mixture of comic and poignant moments, too. Michael chooses the best performers to carry out these various roles and his numerous acting and directing endeavors help bring out the best in his performers. He keeps the show moving smoothly from start to finish. Musical director Michelle Alexander conducts a lush orchestra and taught the cast their musical numbers. The numerous backdrops of Bali Hai, the South Seas and the plantation are by Laura McPherson and the costume coordinator is Carol Salemi for obtaining authentic era clothes with the multitude of props by Gary Poholek. Kudos to the entire crew for pulling off this huge undertaking.

Jennifer Mischley is perfect as Nellie. Her glorious voice fills the air in all her numbers and she shows great acting range from innocent girl to a mature woman who overcomes her predjudice by show's end. The transition from wide-eyed hick who sees life outside of Little Rock for the first time is right on the money. Her most dramatic moments occur when she thinks Emile is dead in both the office and outdoor scenes, moving the audience to tears with her powerhouse acting. Jennifer also shines in the many comic scenes in the show including the comic "Honey Bun" number with the chorus. Brava. Jim Burkholder plays Emile with a French accent in all his lines and songs. The romantic "Some Enchanted Evening" with Jen and the gut wrenching "This Nearly Was Mine" show off his strong, baritone voice. Other strong acting moments include his confession to Nellie, his refusal to go on a mission as well as his acceptance of it later on in the show. Jim also handles the comic moment beautifully, too.

Tracy Silva as Bloody Mary gets to show off her lovely voice in "Bali Hai" which captures the allure of the South Seas island as well as its beauty and mystery. She has many funny scenes in the first act but the dramatic confrontation with Cable is handled well, too. She tried to entice Cable to marry her daughter in the song, "Happy Talk" and her anger explodes with his refusal.The beautiful, Liat is played by Kerri Nichole Wilson. Her lines are all in French but her love of Cable comes through in their scenes together. Brent Reno is excellent as Lt. Joe Cable, the doomed lover of Liat. He makes this tortured and confused young man come alive by his acting as well as with his strong tenor voice in the exhilirating, "Younger Than Springtime" and in "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" which is where he explains how prejudice is learned and is not born in you. Brent's voice soars off the charts in the "Bali Hai" reprise.

The biggest scene stealer in this show is Jeff Mahoney as Luther Billis, a conman sailor who is always out to make a buck. He leads the men in their dance numbers and songs. Jeff's drawn on ship tattoo on his stomach is a hoot and Billis' antics as womanizer and his deviousness are well done. Bill Stambaugh is the gruff, Capt. Brackett who keeps his men in line while Marco Zanelli plays his second in command, Haribson. They handle dramatic moments that are mixed with comic ones and these acting segments which can be tedious, are well executed by their pacing of lines and delivery of them, too. Alyssa Silva and Daniel Falco play Emile's children and both of them are cute as buttons. The supporting cast members do topnotch work with their songs and dances especially the towel dance in "Gonna Wash That Man". So for a look back at the world of the 1940's, be sure to catch "South Pacific" at the historic Norwood Theater. Producer Meg Fofonoff delivers the goods with her hard working director Michael Hammond and his cast and crew in their recreation of a bygone era. ( I would like to dedicate this review to the memory of my father who passed away on February 9, 2005. He was a veteran of World War 2, having served in the Navy aboard the USS Franklin. He was one of the few survivors of the bombing of the ship on March 19, 1945, winning four bronze stars. My parents met in 1949, the same year "South Pacific" opened and their song was "Some Enchanted Evening". Therefore I thought this show's review to be the appropriate one to dedicate to my dad's memory.)

"45 Seconds from Broadway" (11 - 26 February)
11 Central Street, NORWOOD MA
1 (781) 762-4060

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide