By Charles J. Morgan
The antics and other distracting, diversionary activities stationed on a backwater island during World War II form the structure of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s great hit “South Pacific” which opened on Oakdale’s CM Performing Arts Center’s Noel S. Ruiz Theatre’s massive stage last Saturday.
Wonderfully directed by Ed Brennan, the story takes place during World War II, following the love story between a U.S. Navy nurse from Arkansas, Nellie, and French planter, Emile, a widower raising his two children. A second love story develops between Liat, a local girl living on the island of Bali Ha’i, and Lt. Joseph Cable, who is conflicted with the duty he owes to his country and the love he feels for Liat.
With book by Hammerstein and Josh Logan, it guaranteed a smash hit at CMPAC … and so it was with Kristen Digilio as Nurse Nellie Forbush and Jon Rivera as Emile de Becque.
Digilio showed extraordinary range in both acting, singing and even dancing. Rivera was a baritone with some depth into basso and a lyricism especially in “Some Enchanted Evening,” the lyrical note on the last word alone culminating the depth of lower register of the baritone for a truly enhanced, musically aesthetic experience.
Digilio’s “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” was a rollicking ensemble with a bevy of swimsuit-clad Navy nurses. She revealed a range of talent reaching from this signature number as well as the slapstick “Honey Bun,” to a totally plaintive solo in “Some Enchanted Evening.”
In the sassy, wise-guy role of Seaman Luther Billis, Marc Slomowitz leads the Seabees in “There is Nothing Like a Dame” which unlocks the rather libidinous leitmotif of the show. Brodie Centauro plays Lt. Cable. He is in love with Liat, a Polynesian girl played by Kate Apostolico. He sings “Younger Than Springtime” in a melodious tenor with Apostolico in his arms, coupled with a handsome stage presence and a powerful tenor.
Then there is the inevitable “Bloody Mary,” handled expertly by Angela Garofalo. A derivative of Little Buttercup in “H.M.S. Pinafore” she is earthy, but when she sings “Bali Ha’i” and “Happy Talk” one simply wants to give her a hug. The island’s commanding officer, Capt. Brackett, is played by Michael Sherwood; Comdr. Harbison is played by John J. Steele Jr. These two non-singing roles lend a fairly good sense of realism to the show.
Choreography is by the indomitable M.E. Junge. “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” and “Honey Bun” exhibited her best work. Music was under the baton of the indispensable Matthew W. Surico leading faultlessly a live 17-piece pit band with cleverly comic uses of dissonances in a well-rehearsed series of numbers.
Costume design fell to Ronald Green III, a veteran designer at CMPAC. His expertise in the native inhabitants’ costuming and the nurses’ swimsuits was faultless. The uniforms not so: Lt. Cable would have been written up if he actually appeared in a four-button open jacket, sunglasses hung out of pocket, hat on back of head, iniquitous boots and a leather flight jacket suitable for B-17 crews over Berlin. Only one sailor wore a regulation hat while the others wore what looked like the pope’s zucchetto; missing also were the U.S. Navy hat devices for Brackett and Harbison.
Anyway, the excellence of this production calls for maximum attendance by all who want top musical entertainment.
The Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, will present “South Pacific” through Aug. 23. Tickets range from $20 to $29. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.