By Heidi Sutton

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts continues its 17th season with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical “South Pacific.” Based on James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Tales of the South Pacific,” which highlighted his Navy experience fighting the Japanese in the South Pacific during World War II, the show debuted on Broadway in 1949 and is still captivating audiences today, in part because of its familiar score and cautionary theme of bigotry.

Samm Carroll, center, and cast sing ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair’

Directed by Ronald Green III, the story centers on two romances — that of Nellie Forbush (Samm Carroll), an American nurse from Arkansas and self-described “hick from the sticks” who falls head over heels in love with French plantation owner Emile De Becque (Jon Rivera)  — and Marine lieutenant Joe Cable (David DiMarzo) from Philadelphia and his young Tonkinese girlfriend, Liat (Lauren Tirado). Both relationships eventually suffer as racial and cultural prejudices rear their ugly heads.

Forbush struggles to accept her new man’s mixed-race children with his first wife, while Cable weighs the social consequences should he marry his Asian sweetheart. In Cable’s solo, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” he tries to explain where these prejudices come from. “…You’ve got to be taught, before it’s too late, before you are six, or seven, or eight, to hate all the people, your relatives hate…”

Supporting characters, including petty officer Luther Billis (Anthony Panarello) and Liat’s mother, Bloody Mary (Ava Anise Adams) help to tie the stories together nicely.

The songs are the heart of the show, and you’ll still be humming them at work days after, especially “Bali Ha’i,” “Younger Than Springtime,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” and “Some Enchanted Evening.”

Jon Rivera performs ‘This Nearly Was Mine’ in ‘South Pacific’

Rivera is perfectly cast as the handsome Frenchman, Emile, and his beautiful singing voice can be most compared to Andrea Bocelli. At last Saturday’s opening performance, Rivera captured many hearts with his rendition of “This Nearly Was Mine.”

Carroll is equally outstanding, full of energy and every bit the “cockeyed optimist.” Her smile is infectious and she quickly becomes an audience favorite.

The period costumes by Green, an eight-piece band led by conductor Melissa Coyle, and the wonderful choreography by Milan McGouldrick add to the production’s polish to produce one enchanted evening.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” through April 28. Tickets are $38 adults, $34 seniors, $25 students. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

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