Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 2, 2024

Review: Goodspeed, “South Pacific”

Goodspeed Musicals, East Haddam, CT
through August 11, 2024
by Shera Cohen

Opening on Broadway in 1949, “South Pacific” won a slew of Tony Awards. Set toward the end of WWII, composer and lyricist Rodgers & Hammerstein placed their micro-story into the behemoth history of the war in the Pacific.

The musical is lauded for its balanced measure of love, joy, and happiness; with a sobering mood of bigotry, hatred, and death in wartime.

The best of “South Pacific” is the music, particularly the ballads. It would take a cast and crew of first timers to mess that up. Not to worry, Goodspeed’s orchestra led by Adam Souza, and nearly all singers make this musical special some 75-years after its premiere.
The plot is simple: two love stories along with the intrigue of a spy mission, and its repercussions to the couples.

Danielle Wade, Nurse Nellie Forbush, plays spunky well with her southern twang and body
movements. Her first scene with her potential lover, shows her with arms crossed tightly. Later on, when she’s “In Love with a Wonderful Guy,” she’s jumping and doing cartwheels. The audience realizes some of her transformation, but it’s not convincing. Perhaps if Wade was charged with one dramatic solo, the audience would care for both the character and actress more. 

Omar Lopez-Cepero, Emile de Becque, her handsome counterpart with French accent and swarthy frame, looks and sounds like opera star Jonas Kaufman. Even if Nellie has her doubts, the audience loves him. Thank goodness that this amazingly talented baritone is given the opportunity to showcase two of the most lush and romantic blockbuster solos from a musical: “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine”. The actor’s  stance and speech are understated, giving even more power and depth to his songs.

Other important roles are those portrayed by Cameron Loyal (the stoic Lt. Cable) and Keven Quillon (the affable Billis). Joan Almedilla, in the pivotal role of Bloody Mary, punctuates her dialogue with sass, yet sings her signature piece, “Bali Ha’i” as a haunting whisper.

Speaking of the Island Bali Ha’i, the image is back, center, and ever-present on stage. Lighting design makes minor visual effects. Once on the island, the setting becomes a curtain-like multi-colored drop representing a floral forest. The attempt at an island paradise doesn’t work. Too busy. It overpowers the placement of the characters so much that the second pair of lovers are nearly obliterated. Lighting and light-colored costumes might fix the problem. 
Photo by Diane Sobolewski

As in nearly all musicals are the big-dance numbers. “South Pacific” is not lacking: “There’s Nothing Like a Dame,” “Bloody Mary,” and “I’m Gonna’ Wash that Man Right Outta’ My Hair’’. Choreographer Parker Esse makes all three segments fun.

It is sad that much of the plot’s mood tackles the subject of prejudice and ignorance, especially involving the two couples. That theme may have changed a bit in past decades? Director Chay Yew does not beat the characters or the audience up on the subject, although discrimination is ever-present.

And the audience? Too often, those seated immediately give standing ovations as if required. If a S.O. is appropriate, then rise. Anyone who attends theatre knows that cast members take bows in descending order – smallest roles first, leading up to the stars. This does not mean that those in lesser roles are not skilled and/or deserving of praise.

Bravo to Goodspeed’s discerning audience, clapping politely, yet showing true appreciation at the entrance of Ms. Almedilla (Bloody Mary) and again for Mr. Lopez-Cepero (Emile).