photo by Charr Crail
-by Kel Munger
Music Circus has now produced Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific 13 times, putting it in the rarified category of classics in the round; only The Sound of Music, Showboat and Fiddler on the Roof have had this kind of staying power.
That is, no doubt, the result of some outstanding songs—classics that almost everyone knows, like “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Younger Than Springtime,” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair.” Based on James Michener’s 1947 collection of short stories, Tales of the South Pacific, is was a monster hit on Broadway in 1949—when many in the audience would have had first-hand experience with the Pacific island chains that caught the brunt of the fighting between U.S. and Japanese forces, and were nearly destroyed in the process.
That makes South Pacific a sentimental favorite with the “Greatest Generation”—and their children, who grew up listening to the soundtrack—but the underlying questions of racial discrimination and Western privilege remain resonant, and the anthem against racism, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” was not only ahead of its time, but remains timely.
The current Music Circus production has a number of things to recommend it highly: outstanding lead performers in Beth Malone (Arkansas nurse Nellie Forbush) and John Cudia (French colonial planter Emile de Becque) and strong supporting performers in Armelia McQueen (Bloody Mary), Jeff Skowron (scamming sailor with a heart of gold Luther Billis) and Eric Kunze (Lt. Joe Cable, who falls in love with a young Polynesian woman).
Malone, Cudia and Cable all have outstanding voices that bring the classic songs to life, as does McQueen, who adds dignity to a role that can easily descend into pidgin pantomime. Skowron’s portrayal of the scheming sailor adds humor and heart at just the right places.
In any case, South Pacific remains a well-done classic, worthy of a fresh look.
South Pacific; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 7:30 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; $55-$70. California Musical Theatre Music Circus at the Wells Fargo Pavilion, 1419 H Street; (916) 557-1999; www.californiamusicaltheatre.com. Through July 27.