On Stage: South Pacific

After opening the 2013 season with a trio of unconventional, contemporary musicals, The Muny brings in a classic. And they don’t get any more classic than Rogers & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.”

Adapted from James A. Michener’s novel “Tales of the South Pacific,” the show focuses on soldiers, nurses and locals living and working on two islands in the South Pacific during World War II. Since it’s a musical, it’s centered on a couple of love stories, but “South Pacific” has more depth than your typical silly love song-and-dance.

SouthPacific300x300The main couple is Ensign Nellie Forbush (Laura Michelle Kelly), a nurse fresh off the boat from Arkansas, and Emile de Becque (Ben Davis), an expatriate French plantation owner. They’re already singing love songs to each other in the opening scene, so we don’t have to worry about getting them together, just how to break them apart temporarily before the big finish.

A secondary romance involves the newly arrived Lt. Joseph Cable (Josh Young), who is coerced into a meeting with young Liat (Sumie Maeda) by the girl’s mother, Bloody Mary (Lore). In no time he’s shirtless and they’re down on the ground — singing. (What do you expect, this is a 1949 Broadway musical, after all.)

When both relationships hit the rocks, Cable and de Becque go on a dangerous mission to spy on the Japanese fleet for the Allies.

The Muny production of “South Pacific” plays it straight — none of your typical references to St. Louis or parades of children dancing about. Which is just as well as “South Pacific” needs no embellishments. The story is light-hearted at times and at times somber. The sets and costumes are fine but the show’s biggest selling point is the music.

While many musicals struggle to have three or four great songs, “South Pacific” is filled with them — “There Is Nothing Like A Dame,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair,” “Honey Bun,” “I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy” and the oft-repeated classic “Some Enchanted Evening.”

The songs are all delivered with gusto by a talented orchestra and cast. Davis especially gives a powerful performance of “Some Enchanted Evening” (multiple times, in fact). Kelly, Sayer and Young are equally gifted singers. A shout-out is also deserved to Tally Sessions as the comic relief petty officer.

Everyone on stage brings an infectious joy to the production. Like the magical island of Bali Ha’i, “South Pacific” is a jewel of this Muny season.

“South Pacific” runs through July 14. http://muny.org/

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