CHARLESTON – “South Pacific” had me at the overture.
Listening to the orchestra play parts of a number of the beautiful songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” was the appetizer to a tasty theatrical entrée at Charleston High School’s Swickard Auditorium.
It’s been a few years since I have seen “South Pacific,” and you have to wonder if a World War II story with racism as an underlying theme might be outdated in 21st century America. But then, in just the past month, there was news about a deadly shooting outside a Jewish community center in Kansas by a white supremacist and the owner of a professional basketball team who apparently criticized a young girlfriend for associating with African-Americans and Hispanics.
And you realize that Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics in “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” to hate is relevant even 65 years after “South Pacific” first opened on Broadway.
But “South Pacific” also is fun and entertaining, with colorful characters as well as memorable music.
Any production of “South Pacific” requires strong performances from those portraying Frenchman Emile DeBecque, Navy nurse Nellie Forbush, Seabee schemer Luther Billis and island mystery woman Bloody Mary.
The Wednesday night cast provided those powerful efforts.
Sam Stowell showcased his strong voice as Emile. He has that role all four nights of the show. The other three parts are split. Stephanie Mitchell was the sweet girl from Little Rock trying to outgrow her prejudices on Wednesday and again in Friday’s show. Zara Kasey fulfills that role in the Thursday-Saturday cast.
Christopher Phillips had the audience on his side Wednesday as Billis. And, as required in this show, his performance in the Naval base talent show in “Honey Bun” was an audience favorite. Nate James has that role in the Thursday/Saturday show.
As Bloody Mary, Skyler James was able to persuade the audience that Bali Ha’i was an especially enchanting, alluring island that we all wanted to experience. Codi Martin will provide the island charm in the Thursday/Saturday productions.
Michael Hildebrandt as Lt. Joe Cable had the Wednesday/Friday task of delivering the message that hate is taught, not innate. He also had to overcome concerns about how his family might feel about him bringing home a Southeast Asia native when he fell for Bloody Mary’s daughter, Liat, played by Zoe Wavering. Michael Drake and Lauren Mellott have those roles in the Thursday/Saturday show.
Adding to the cuteness factor of the show is the performances of Hannah Larson and Kaiden Bowersock as Emile's half-Polynesian children, Ngana and Jerome.
But as with all Rodgers and Hammerstein shows, the music is sensational. You probably know almost all of the songs. And the songs are wonderful in “South Pacific.” “A Cockeyed Optimist,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” “Bali Ha’i,” “Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair,” and the list goes on.
The music is special and this CHS cast delivers.
Direction of this year’s musical was by CHS vocal music director Juliane Sharp with student teacher Miranda Buob serving as stage director and band director Laney Grimes directing the orchestra. Other faculty assisted with set design, program and publicity while students also were involved with program and poster design.
Choreography was by Dance Life Center and Patrick Ward served as rehearsal accompanist.
“South Pacific” continues at 7 p.m. today and Saturday at CHS.