Annapolis Opera’s production of South Pacific was a fun, charming musical. Based on James Michner’s novel Tales of the South Pacific, with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics and book by Oscar Hammerstein II, and directed by Braxton Peters, there was wonderful singing, music, and dancing combined with an inventive set and superb lighting. It was an entertaining evening, which was also thought-provoking.
Nora Graham-Smith was a joy to watch as Nellie Forbush. She uses the whole stage during her numbers, twirling and dancing in pleasure. A sense of fun and humor came through particularly in “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair,” as she danced with the other women, playfully hitting them with her towel; at the end of the song she threw it into the air. In “A Wonderful Guy,” she leaped and glided through the stage. Her southern accent was also quite convincing.
Christian Bowers as Emile de Becque was a sheer pleasure. Hid rich, deep Baritone voice boomed in “Some Enchanted Evening” and his passion and anger surged forth in “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” where he paced back and forth, letting loose his hatred of prejudice. He and Nora Graham-Smith had instant chemistry. Bowers also sang a hilarious rendition of “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair. His convincing French accent added to his character’s charm.
Glenn Seven Allen was wonderful as Lieutenant Joseph Cable. He had a powerful presence onstage, and his emotions shone through. His desperation to get back to Bali Ha’i and Liat (Vanessa Naghdi) gave him a touchingly vulnerable quality. In “Younger than Springtime” he is tender and loving with Liat, gently holding and caressing her while singing of his love for her. His inner conflict between wanting to stay with her and needing to complete his mission plays out on his face; he pulls Liat closer to him and also pushes her away. Allen displayed fine acting as well as his glorious voice.
Kate Jackman’s Bloody Mary is absolutely marvelous. Filled with energy and earthiness, whether haggling with the sailors over souvenirs or arranging a match for Cable, she was enchanting in “Bali Ha’i,”painting a portrait of the island in words and song
In “Happy Talk” Bloody Mary is romantic and sweet, drawing Cable and Liat ever closer together. She displayed many emotions – joking or being serious as the situation required. “Bloody Mary” is the sailors’ joyful celebration of her activity, as they dance around their goddess.
James Ludlum showed great comic flair as Luther Billis. His attempts to outsmart his superior officers gets big laughs, especially when they end up getting him chewed out. He was hilarious in “Honey Bun,” wearing a coconut bra, grass skirt, and headdress.
Michael Klima’s Lighting Design set the mood and setting perfectly. When Bloody Mary and Cable enter Bali Ha’i it darkens, with part of the stage getting lighter as they approach their prize. During more suspenseful moments in the Commander’s office, the light adds to the atmosphere by slowly getting darker. The light briefly goes out at the Thanksgiving Follies. It is soft and romantic when Emile and Nellie are together.
The costumes by Elizabeth D’Antonio were stunningly beautiful. The sailors’ uniforms looked authentic, from the more casual blue shirts and jeans and white caps to their combat gear as they move out. Luther’s is particularly impressive; his shirt is usually open to the waist, revealing a tattoo of a ship. Nellie had several costume changes, starting with a beige skirt and top, to a light blue bikini, then to a more casual blue dress. Emile has a few costume changes as well, but he mostly wore a red dress shirt, with a yellow aviator’s scarf and brown leather boots, looking quite dashing. The dancers in the Thanksgiving Follies had glittery turkey tails and shiny pilgrim caps.
Set Designer April Joy Vester has created a plantation complete with bamboo chairs, desk, and drinks cart, with several large bamboo fences in the background. The sailors have a washing machine and various instruments on Company Street, and the beach has a large primitive shower for Nellie, with a water tank on top (and real water!). The Commander’s office has institutional-looking chairs and desks, which makes it look functional but unattractive.
Braxton Peters’ direction is flawless and what a great cast he has to work with! The actors work so well together. They are full of energy, and their singing is incredible. This production has many scene changes, and the cast makes the switches quickly and easily.
Ronald J. Gretz conducted the the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, who performed the iconic score so beautifully. Kudos to the all the exceptional musicians.
Annapolis Opera’s South Pacific was an enchanted evening I won’t soon forget.
Running Time: Approximately 3 hours, with a 15-minute intermission.
South Pacific played on Saturday, November 5 and 6, 2016 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts – 801 Chase Street, in Annapolis. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 280-5640 or purchase them online.