Reagle Music Theatre’s classy, classic revival of Rogers and Hammerstein’s SOUTH PACIFIC (playing through June 22nd) returns the musical to its roots. Director Joshua Logan suggested James Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific” to the famous collaborators and two of the many stories of Polynesian life during WWII appealed to them. They combined the two because of their similar themes so both the main and secondary characters in SOUTH PACIFIC have crises of conscience over race. The navy nurse falls in love with a French planter but can’t accept his past which includes two mixed race children. The courageous lieutenant is immediately smitten with the young, innocent Tonkinese (i.e. Vietnamese) beauty but he can’t imagine taking her home to main line Philadelphia.
Most productions bowl you over with military hi-jinks (think “MASH”)—sailors constantly trailing along after the nurses, peaking in on their showers, scoring Island trinkets, planning nighttime excursions to off limit islands, talking their way out of disciplinary punishment—It almost becomes “McHale’s Navy.” I’ve even seen productions which starred Olympic gymnasts: A clever idea but the frenetic flipping and energetic somersaults take away from the story. Director David Hugo’s production clears the air and clarifies the story. We know it’s a love story from the start when “one enchanted evening,” nurse Nellie Forbush sees the elegant Frenchman Emile deBecque “across a crowded room.” We feel the connection between them and the war is just the setting.
Katie Clark makes Ensign Forbush a spunky, take charge woman who is taken aback by her attraction to Peter S. Adams’ charming Frenchman. She sees his determination and way of life as respite from the regimentation of the navy. So too does Mark Linehan as the lieutenant in love with Samantha Ma’s Liat: He’s drawn to her and to the peaceful world of Bali Ha’i. Lydia Gaston is a kinder Bloody Mary in Hugo’s thought provoking production. She’s so often played as a grotesque that it’s a relief to see her humanized at Reagle.
Linehan delivers the sad, somber truth about prejudice in “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’’ but it’s Adams who breaks your heart when his has been trampled, with his gorgeous, plaintive “This Nearly Was Mine.” His tour de force gives the production its gravitas. On the lighter side, Aaron Dore makes Billis a delightfully mischievous schemer. R. Glen Michell’s Captain has a twinkle in his eye and Rich Allegretto as the XO make the two officers comrades and confidants, not just stiff top brass. And Rachel Bertone invents the most amusing choreography for the gobs and gals who (supposedly) can’t dance.