Toby's presents magical 'Pacific'

October 31, 1991|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic "South Pacific," currently on stage at Toby's Dinner Theatre, is a vibrant production that zips along at a roller coaster pace.

Smartly directed by Toby Orenstein, the show, one of the most popular of all time, still retains the magic and the marvel 42 years after its initial Broadway opening.

An admirable singing an dancing chorus and a bevy of fine performers make this production an outstanding one.

Performed in the round with limited opportunity for large set designs, this version, nevertheless, conveys the feel and flavor of a lush island set somewhere in the blue waters of the South Pacific during World War II.

Based on James A. Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "Tales of the South Pacific," the musical drama with comedy overtones was adapted by Oscar Hammerstein and Josh Logan and set to music by Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers.

When the musical opened on April 7, 1949, starring Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza it met with immediate enthusiastic success and received the New York Drama Critics Award, eight Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama. It later became a movie filmed in lavish Todd-AO.

In this poignant tale, United States Seabees and American nurses sweat it out against the harsh backdrop of World War II. Racial prejudice and class distinction on the island pose social problems.

The story, which is a compilation of Michener's yarns, tells of the bittersweet romance between an exiled French planter, Emile De Becque and a feisty, forthright Navy nurse, Nellie Forbush from Little Rock, Ark. A secondary romantic plot involves Lt. Joseph Cable, a young Marine officer and Princeton graduate from Philadelphia whose love for the beautiful Polynesian girl, Liat, sends his carefully taught upper-crust values crashing.

Nellie's romance takes a sour twist when she discovers Emile has two children by his deceased Polynesian wife. Unable to cope, she turns away and he takes on a dangerous secret mission.

The wild antics of assorted colorful characters and rousing song and dance numbers enhance the show and lighten the somber tones. All through, the mystical island of Bali Ha'l beckons all who dare to love and dream.

The wonderful songs: "Some Enchanted Evening, "There is Nothing Like a Dame," "Younger Than Springtime," and "This Nearly Was Mine" are well executed.

Orenstein has shortened the show from its usual long playing time and cut some scenes and characters. We agree in part with this but a few of the songs seem to get short shrift. We miss some of the original theatrical touches that made this show great.

Braxton Peters with his mane of fine gray hair and superb, rich baritone is a --ing Emile De Becque (although the actor seems rather wooden at times). Natalie Wolf, is a refreshing Nellie. With her excellent song delivery and sunny comic ability she is a constant pleasure to watch.

As the shady old Tonkinese trader, Bloody Mary, hustling shrunken heads and grass skirts, TyJuana R. Morris delivers a raucously good performance. She also belts out a good song, yet her voice could not quite sustain the difficult range and high notes of the lovely "Bali Ha'l" number. But in the delightful "Happy Talk" musical sequence Morris really shines.

Jesse Foreman comes through with flying colors as the devilish, ever scheming Seabee Luther Billis. He is a riot in the hilarious "Honey Bun" number. Timothy J. Ownby is a believable Lt. Cable but somehow lacks the necessary emotion for the moving "You Have To Be Carefully Taught" segment. This dramatic musical moment loses much of its punch.

Pamela Lehmann is a graceful and lovely Liat. Michael J. Isennock is an amusing Stewpot.

Ilona Kessell staged the snappy choreography. Good orchestration by Ross Scott Rawlings and his ensemble add to the overall quality of the show, which runs through Feb. 2.

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