Review by Danny Gaisin
““We’ve got sunlight on the sand and moonlight on the sea,
We’ve got mangoes & bananas you can pick right off a tree.
We’ve got volleyball & ping pong and a lot of dandy games;
But what don’t we got -we ain’t got Dames!”
Even without a brilliant accompanying composition, such poetry has a musical lilt as well as meter, rhyme, and timbre. Coupled with Richard Rogers’ amazing score, Hammerstein II’s lyrics are a perfect blend.
This dynamic duo paired in 1943 with ‘Oklahoma’ and followed bi-annually with ‘State Fair’; “Carousel” and then in 1949 adapted Michener’s ‘Tales of the South Pacific’ into “SOUTH PACIFIC”.
Considered by most scholars as the progressive transition from operetta to musical theatre, all four had successful runs with the latter running almost 2,000 nights and still had ‘Sold out ‘signs in 1954. It’s exciting to learn that Etobicoke Musical Productions’ 2017 version has almost reached that same positive situation. Enjoying the play for the umpteenth time, this scribe still found it emotional, uplifting and hummable (read : -sing along quietly).
The plot deals with a group of US Navy ‘Seabees’; Marines, and sailors bivouacked on an island in the Solomons (Vanuatu) along with the native Polynesians; European ex-pats and military nurses. Incorporated into the play from some other Michener stories are two love affairs; the primary one is the local French plantation owner Emile de Beque and Ensign Nellie Forbush from Little Rock, Arkansas. The lesser relationship is between Lt. Joseph Cable and a beautiful young native. As in many of the R & H librettos, there is an underlying message chastising social injustice and bigotry.
Director Gillian Rodrigue has used the lightest of reins in her interpretation that has resulted in an entire cast completely enamoured with their individual roles and project same across the footlights. Their dialogue ,phrasing and projection is effective and faultless. The choreographed chorus numbers are perfectly synchronized as are the numerous incidents of acrobatic challenge. The orchestral accompaniment under Andrew Ascenzo never overpowers and both performed-overtures are balanced and faultless. The set including backdrop projections emit the ambience of a tropical atmosphere and the somewhat sparse props are very effective and utilitarian.
The two love-interest principals are performed by Rick Schiralli as De Beque, and Laura Larson as nurse Nellie. Both are triple-threat performers – singers, actors and dancers. Schiralli has that slight quaver in his voice that adds more than a modicum of emphatic drama to his solos and his emotional renderings of such arias as ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ and especially -”This nearly Was Mine” are certainly ‘professional grade’. Larson has her southern drawl word-perfect and her 1,000-watt smile underscores her magnificent soprano voice and spotless diction. Given Hammerstein’s lyrics; my critical emphasis on impeccable pronunciation.
The local native entrepreneur is the eponymous ‘Bloody Mary’ and Gina Patricio brings some humour to the story without being hammy. Then, when she belts out about “Bali Ha’i,” one of the best voices on-stage is heard. Even her ‘Happy Talk’ number makes one want to join in with the chorus. Two surprise vocal talents occur briefly in the ‘Nothing Like a dame‘ number :- David Smith’s baritone and Kieran Donworth‘s tenor shine even being vocalized a cappella!
The comic relief is contributed by Kevin Barreca but both director Rodrigue and Barreca himself make the role pivotal to the onstage progression. The secondary relationship is offered by a very sympathetic Kierans Jordan as the lieutenant and a very naive-appearing Pearl Ho whose interpretive hula seems implicitly comprehend-able.
Spoiler alert * De Beque’s two little children are professionally interpreted by siblings Ella & Ethan Ali and they are so delicious and scene-stealing that this scribe kept thinking about W.C. Fields caveat about acting with kids or pets!
This is the 25th year of Music Theatre Miss’a; 50th anniversary of local productions and the 3rd iteration of South Pacific. Given our O.A.R, line of work, we’ve probably seen the play at least a half-dozen times before. Still, these eyes teared up when Schiralli sang about having ‘Nearly’ had love and especially the finale when he joins in a ‘Dites-Moi pourquoi’ reprise with Larson and the kiddies.
There may be only 70 seats left for the run (ends Oct. 29th) but perhaps you can find a ‘scalper’ with tickets. Pay the premium…it’s certainly worth it.
As well, mark your calendars for approximately the 3rd week of December and our ONTARIO ARTS REVIEW’S “TOP TEN”. Methinks MTM‘s SOUTH PACIFIC will be on that list.