Sunday, June 16, 2013

SOUTH PACIFIC lights up Porthouse

Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein, Jr. are considered the fathers of modern American musical theatre.  Their OKLAHOMA opened the door to musicals with meaningful storylines, and the integration of lyrics, dancing and music to help move the plot along.

As with all of Rogers and Hammerstein’s musicals, there is a strong societal and moral base.  This aspect of their scripts is usually highlighted by a key song.  In SOUTH PACIFIC, which is the opening show of Porthouse Theatre’s 2013 season, it’s the poignant You Have to Be Carefully Taught which keys the concepts of racism and prejudice that underscores the story.

Premiering in 1949, the original Broadway production, which starred Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, became the second longest running musical of its time.  That production won ten Tony Awards.  A 1958 film and a 2008 revival were also critical and audience successes.

Based on James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, THE TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC, the World War II story relates a tale of Nelly Forbush, an army nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas, who falls in love with Emile De Becque, a middle-aged French expatriate plantation owner who has two mixed-race children, and a parallel love story between Lt. Cable, also an American southerner, and Liat, a Tonkinese woman.  Because of  Forbush and Cable having been imbued with racial biases, both love affairs run into difficulties.

The show is imbedded with wonderful songs including Cockeyed Optimist, Some Enchanted Evening, Bali H’ai, Younger Than Springtime, Happy Talk, and Dites-Moi.

Artistic Director Terri Kent knows her Porthouse audience well, and SOUTH PACIFIC is definitely their kind of show.  She directs for audience enjoyment, creating a show filled with joy, sprinkled with pathos.  She succeeds well.

Mary Ann Black’s choreography is sprightly, Ben Needham’s set creates the right Pacific Island atmosphere, and musical director Jonathan Swoboda does a good job with the chorus and lead performers’ vocal sounds.  The dual pianos sound rather naked playing the lush score.  This was a production that could have been aided by a full orchestra.

Though her needed Southern accent came and went, pretty Kayce Cummings (Green) generates the right level of cutesiness to make for a charming Nellie.  Her I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair was delightful.

Cleveland area favorite Gregg Violand has advanced to the age level where he can use his powerful voice to aid in developing a convincing Emile.  His consistent French accent adds to the creation of a believable character.  His This Nearly was Mine was beautifully interpreted and sung. There is a nice connection between Cummings and Violand.

Tim Welsh delights as the scheming con-man Luther Billis.  Honey Bun, sung with the Cummings, was an audience favorite.

Kaishawn Thomas was lovely as Liat and, though she didn’t quite play enough for the requisite laughs, Coleen Longshaw was an acceptable Bloody Mary.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Under the directing abilities of Terri Kent, the Porthouse production of SOUTH PACIFIC makes for a fine evening of summer entertainment.
SOUTH PACIFIC runs until June 29 at Porthouse Theatre, on the grounds of Blossom Music Center.  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to

NEXT UP AT PORTHOUSE:  WORKING, runs July 4-20, followed by FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, July 25-August 11.  Curtain time is 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Blossom open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.