If there ever there was a musical ahead of its time it is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s venerable “South Pacific,” which premiered on Broadway in 1949. Now playing at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre on Indy’s far Northwest side, the show, seen by atombash.com on media night Saturday, runs through October 4.
At a time when war and racism is still part of our national dialogue, “South Pacific” remains timely. Based on “Tales of the Pacific,” a novel by James Michener, the musical tells the story of Nellie Forbush, a U.S. Navy nurse (Deb Wims) from Little Rock, Ark., who has been stationed on an island during War War II. There she meets Emile de Becque (Robert Wilde), a suave French plantation owner with whom she becomes emotionally involved. Once she learns, however, that he has two half-Polynesian children and that he once killed a man, she decides to distance herself from him.
A sub plot and secondary romance in the musical involves Lt. Joseph Cable (Mickey Rafalski), a U.S. Marine officer, who has come to the island to take part in a spy mission. Eventually he meets and is instantly attracted to Liat (Arianne Villareal), a young Tonkinese girl, but later realizes he cannot marry her because of his family’s prejudices.
Though the romantic “South Pacific” story is more than enough to maintain one’s interest, it’s the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s score that has made it one of the most enduring musicals ever. Graced with such songs as “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Bali Ha’i,” “This Nearly Was Mine” and “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” which confronts racism, the show’s score is transcendent.
Though the “Beef and Boards” production, directed by Elizabeth Stark, had its share of positive attributes, it suffered from uneven acting performances.
Wilde, as the virile de Becque, both looked and sounded the part, French accent and all, and turned in a respectable vocal performance as well. Overall, he was quite believable as the show’s romantic lead.
Rafalski as Cable also turned in a fine dramatic performance but it was during his captivating vocal performance in “Younger Than Springtime” that he shone the brightest.
Though the Nellie Forbush role was intended to be sung by a belter, which Wims does very well, her vocal as well as her acting performance offered little in the way of dimension, subtlety or nuance.
Jeff Stockberger played the enterprising Seabee Luther Billis. Executing his usual broad physical comedy, the Beef and Boards regular drew his share of easy laughs, but for this reviewer’s tastes, it was a bit excessive.
In smaller roles, Bob Payne as Captain Brackett and Adam O. Crowe as Commander William Harrison excelled in their characterizations of the island’s commanding officers.
Ron Morgan turned in his customary exemplary work as the show’s choreography but Kristy Templet’s musical direction fell short as it pertained to the band’s performance, which sounded sub par and inadequate.
Noteworthy are the show’s technical elements including Michael Layton’s set design which included a lovely painted backdrop depicting a beach and palm tree and Ryan Koharchik’s evocative lighting design. As far as Jill Kelly’s costumes, this writer was perplexed as to why all the military characters’ uniforms were devoid of any sort of insignia.
Despite its inconsistencies, “South Pacific” is still worth seeing for its message about embracing difference and the futiliyy of war and the opportunity to hear some of the finest music of the Great American Songbook.
“South Pacific” tickets range from $40 to $65 and include a dinner buffet. For reservations, call the Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre Box Office at (317) 872 – 9664 anytime between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays. For more information, including complete show schedule, visit beefandboards.com.