CENTERVILLE — South Pacific has long been one of my favorite shows, so I was quick to take an opportunity to review it at Centerpoint Legacy Theater in Centerville. As I sat waiting for the performance to begin, I enjoyed the Polynesian music playing in the auditorium, and spent some time admiring the set. The stage had very realistic looking palm trees on the sides, and a beautiful backdrop of the ocean and “Bali Ha’i” in the distance. I was impressed as well with the lighting that gave the illusion of a sunset, and the floor of the stage had been painted and textured to look like a white sandy beach. I was easily transported into the world of the South Pacific before the show had even begun. I commend set designer Scott Van Dyke, lighting designer Mark Rencher, and all who worked on bringing the stage to life in such a beautiful way.
While waiting through the program to begin, I examined the program, and found myself taken in by director Jim Christian’s director’s note. In it he took time to explain to the audience the atmosphere of the United States during World War II, and specifically how it opened our eyes to “a new kind of prejudice.” He pointed out how the writers of South Pacific took a hard look at these issues and how the characters in the show learn to deal with and overcome their own prejudices. Christian told an amazing story about my favorite song, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” and how it almost did not make it into the show. He and I both agree that it is “one of the most brilliantly crafted moments of musical theater.” When you go see this show, please be sure to read his words. I was also very touched how he shared some information from his own father’s experience serving in the military during World War II, and could tell that he used the same care that he must feel for his father in directing this show. I imagine his father would be proud.
Centerpoint has two casts for South Pacific, and it should be noted that I saw the Monday, Wednesday, Friday cast. In the opening scenes, I could tell that Nellie, played by Lindsea Garside, had been perfectly cast. Nellie is a part that needs to be play with a bit of small town naivety and natural spunk that would cause a small town girl to up and join the military as a nurse and travel to a place far from home. With Garside in the role, Nellie is a character believable enough that you can realistically follow her as she journeys through the difficult road of discovering your own personal biases. Garside was excellent in this portrayal. I loved her voice when she started to sing “Cockeyed Optimist” and felt that most of her songs were spot on. She was able to sing the notes with clarity, but even more importantly, she had the innocence behind her voice that led me to believe she truly was an optimist. However, I also felt that she had a grasp on what Nellie goes through when she discovers Emile’s children, and how she eventually comes to terms with that. Emile, played by Kevin Burtenshaw, also had a lovely voice, and he did well on the signature “Some Enchanted Evening.” I did feel that he was slightly overshadowed by Nellie, but he still did well.
Another standout character for me was Lt. Joseph Cable, played by Jared Morgan, especially when he sang “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” In a show with fun and catchy tunes such as “There is Nothing Like a Dame” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy,” it can be challenging to deliver a number that teaches the terrible but all too real truth that we teach children from the time they are young to “hate all the people their relatives hate.” Mogan was able to sing that song with such conviction and focus that I noticed several tears in the eyes of the audience, including mine.
The character of Bloody Mary was played by Okaneti Taumoepeau. I confess when I first saw her I thought “she is too young to be playing Bloody Mary.” However, I was wrong, and the beautiful way she sang “Bali Ha’i” proved that age did not matter. She has a clean and crisp voice, and I could imagine the beauty of “Bali Ha’i”.
I enjoyed very much the choreography of many group numbers, especially “There is Nothing Like a Dame”, “Wonderful Guy”, and “Honey Bun.” Choreographer Jessica Merrill did a great job of bring the dancers together and keeping the audience entertained. The men in the cast were very entertaining in regards to their movement, and you could tell there was a lot of effort and focus on making the choreography clean and exact.
I also felt the show had some wonderful moments of musical harmony, especially for the men during “There is Nothing Like a Dame.” The entire cast is to be commended for their hard work and dedication to making this musical such an entertaining evening. The costumes were also wonderful, and quite true to the time period, thanks to costume designer Laurie Oswald.
Finally, I would just add that this is the type of musical that I am pleased to see produced in community settings. It tells an important story about an important time in our history, and parallels to prejudices we still currently face. I hope the lovers of theater out there go to this show, and then ponder about the people you may have been “carefully taught” to hate and fear, and maybe we can all learn to let go of those things we have been taught.