Second Stage players put on first-rate show

Musical: The troupe's opening performance of "South Pacific" proves memorable.

October 11, 2001|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Second Stage troupe made a memorable debut with South Pacific last weekend at Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts, never looking better that it did on this theater's main stage.

Exhibiting their distinctive brio and brilliance in their performance, Second Stage joined the family of already established CCCA theater groups - Pasadena Theatre Company, Actors Company Theatre and Merely Players.

Second Stage President Mary James directed this production with Bil Shappell serving as music director and Elaine Bachman as choreographer. The talented leadership brought a respectful sensitivity to Rodgers and Hammerstein's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1949 classic that lends an added romantic luster to the plot and fresh vitality to its fabulous score.

With its theme of racial prejudice, South Pacific was decades ahead of its time. In her program notes, James calls attention to the current relevance of the song "You've Got to be Carefully Taught," the first ever to deal with the subject: You've got to be taught to be afraid ... of people whose skin is a different shade ... of people whose eyes are oddly made ... you've got to be carefully taught.

The Rodgers and Hammerstein score is well-served from the first notes of the overture through the entire performance by Shappell, who is positioned at the keyboard at the back of the stage, where he is joined by talented Andrea Loepker on the flute. Throughout the play the music speaks eloquently, evoking the World War II era with its innocent romanticism.

Bringing this timeless story to life is a superb cast headed by LaDon Hall as Nellie Forbush and Mark Loepker (flutist Andrea Loepker's father) as Emile de Becque. Hall is a natural when projecting Nellie's exuberance and naivete, and she has the requisite acting skills to convey Nellie's grappling with her small-town prejudice toward de Becque's half-Polynesian children. Hall sings easily and clearly in a lovely voice that does full justice to songs like "Cock-eyed Optimist," "Wonderful Guy" and "Twin Soliloquies."

Lending credence to the de Becque-Forbush romance is Hall's great chemistry with baritone Loepker and the near-perfect blending of their voices. Although the program notes indicate that this marks Loepker's first stage appearance in 25 years, he has an easy command of the stage in almost matinee idol fashion. Loepker matches sure acting skills with a fine baritone that lends magic to "Some Enchanted Evening," warmth to "Twin Soliloquies" and "Dites Moi" and pathos to "This Nearly Was Mine."

Sharon Igoe plays Bloody Mary with zest and humor and delivers an acceptable "Bali Hai" and "Happy Talk." Peach Musikabhumma is well-cast as Bloody Mary's beautiful daughter Liat, who loves Lieutenant Cable. On opening weekend Kevin Treine substituted for Patrick Nolan, originally cast as Cable, and did a fine job on short notice, though his metronomic "Younger than Springtime" lacked feeling.

The male chorus displayed an abundance of zip and vigor in "There is Nothing Like a Dame" with Eric Bachmann, Dan Wareham, Ron Thomas and Tom Wilber. The nurses' chorus sang well and managed some high kicks and intricate choreography.

Second Stage's production of "South Pacific" continues on weekends through Oct. 20 at Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts in Brooklyn Park. Call 410-636-6597 for tickets.

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