John W. Engeman Theater's production of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is this summer's hottest vacation spot.
In Rodgers and Hammerstein's oft-produced musical, a number of characters and elements form several stories that are weaved together into a single plotline, all set on a South Pacific island during World War II. At the forefront is the love story between Nellie Forbush, a naïve young nurse from Arkansas, and Emile de Becque, an older Frenchman with controversial secrets marking his past. The romance between Lt. Joe Cable from Philadelphia and the young Liat, a Tonkenese girl with whom he falls in love, makes for an intriguing subplot.
In director Igor Goldin's incarnation of the ever powerful piece, audiences are transported back to the '40s, a time when war and crisis were on the mind while love was a bit more innocent. Kim Carson, whose lovely voice lit up Guenevere in Engeman's Camelot, once again proves her leading lady chops as Nellie. A booming voice matched with heartbreaking looks of longing set the tone through her many ballads, including "A Cockeyed Optimist" and "A Wonderful Guy." Rob Gallagher's Emile de Becque is just the right amount of corny and dashing, whether playing with his kids or dreaming of love in "Some Enchanted Evening." Gallagher, who also wore de Becque's shoes on Broadway, is dons a sexy accent, irresistible within his pleading intonations. Goldin directs Gallagher in a balanced way that allows audiences to fall in love with his de Beque right alongside Carson's Nellie.
Goldin's excellent direction and Antoinette DiPietropolo's creative choreography help curate this large cast into a stand-out ensemble. "Bloody Mary" is a tricky number, and the sailors, Seabees, and Marines deliver with incredible gusto, resulting in a thumping rowdiness of the upbeat tune. The only exception to the talent exhibited on this faux beach is that of Matt Wood, who unfortunately plays a favorite supporting character, Luther Billis. Flamboyant and nervous, Wood is very much out of place among artists with long theatrical resumes.
Josh Zangen's scenic design allows audiences to forget they are indoors. Sand dunes accompany a pink, orange, and blue pristine sky, Bali Ha'i peaking through friendly clouds in the distance. Zangen even managed to construct a working washer and shower to accompany two of South Pacific's most fun numbers, "Bloody Mary" and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair." The intelligent sets coupled with Amy Pedigo-Otto's thoughtful period costumes make it easy for audiences to forget they're not seeing a Broadway production.
An inspired rendition of what is considered to be one of the greatest musicals composed by Rodgers and Hammerstein, this South Pacific will leave you with the smell of salt water in your hair, sand between your toes, and a sobering enjoyment that will last until John W. Engeman Theater's next superb treat.