SCERA’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s grand classic “South Pacific” suffers from poor casting and some weak performances, but overall serves its purpose in entertaining the audience.
Consummate singer/dancer/actress Jayne Luke, marvelous in everything she does, is miscast as Ensign Nellie Forbush. The nurse is said in the script to be young and naive; in fact, one reason it’s assumed she wouldn’t fall for Frenchman Emile de Becque (Marvin Payne) is that “he’s a middle-aged man.” (Mitzi Gaynor was 28 when she played the role in the film version.)
In this production, though, they’re both middle-aged, and Luke is far older than her fellow nurses. And never mind that she’s also supposed to be “a hick from the sticks” but doesn’t even TRY a Southern accent; Payne’s French accent comes and goes, too.
Still, the two of them are strong performers, almost overcoming the problems inherent in the casting and in fact carrying the show on their shoulders for much of the way. The show’s message about blind racism, now a little dated (honestly, in 1999, who cares if an American marries a Polynesian?), manages to come across in the end.
The other standout is Shawn Lynn as the scheming Luther Billis. Lynn is an amateur actor, but his performance is professional. His “Honey Bun” number with Luke is a high point of the show, and he carries himself with confidence and talent throughout.
Dan Jarvis’s Lt. Joseph Cable is overly dramatic, delivering every line with too much passion. That said, he and Kris Wing as the native girl Liat make an extremely cute couple, and one gets a sense of the true love that develops between them.
The rest of the supporting cast is hit-or-miss, and mostly miss, unfortunately. All have good singing voices, but few can really act. Some scenes, like the “Bloody Mary” number, are energy-drainingly slow and unenthusiastic, as if everyone’s just going through the motions.
If you haven’t seen “South Pacific” in a while, this production may serve as nostalgia. A first-timer, though, is unlikely to fall in love with what really is, and should be, a true classic.
I had to steal a program for this show. They weren't distributing them at the door, which was odd. So someone checked, and they said they were "out." Which was also odd, considering this was only the third night of performances. So I considered just not saying any of the performers' names in the review, just to tick off SCERA, but I got over that immaturity and at intermission, I found the theater office. Not the box office, but the actual business office. The door was open, and no one was in there, so I sneaked in and found two boxes full of programs. I took one and sneaked out again, and they were none the wiser. I have no idea why they were hoarding programs. But I got one! Woo-hoo!
Now, when I said in the review that in 1999, no one cares if a white person marries a Polynesian, I didn't mean to suggest that we have conquered racism, because we obviously have not. I just meant that in 1950, it was practically a given that a white man couldn't marry a Polynesian woman, and a white woman wouldn't want to marry a man with two Polynesian kids. The audience accepted that, and part of the show's power was that it made them re-think those ideas. Now, though, while marriage with a black person might be a different story, marrying a Polynesian person -- especially in Utah, where there are many LDS Polynesian transplants -- is really not a big deal. Rather than sympathizing with Lt. Cable's and Nellie's plights, we don't see what all the fuss is about, and the show winds up sending out a "message" that we already understood.