In brief, Nellie Forbush (Madison Genovese), a Navy nurse stationed on a South Pacific island during WWII, falls for a local planter, Frenchman Emile de Becque (Daniel Cameron). Her acceptance of his checkered past (having killed a man) is trumped by her inability to accept his earlier relationship and two children with a Polynesian woman. Then there's Lieutenant Joe Cable (Sergey Khalikulov), who deeply loves a young Tonkinese girl, Liat (Amanda Nguyen), but must face his own prejudice when he realizes he can't allow himself to marry her.
The two struggling love stories are set against the backdrop of war in the Pacific arena, Americans vs. "Japs"and even that is thrown into sharp relief by Emile's reservations about American superiority. In the end, some struggles are won, others are lost, and all learn much about themselves and their prioritiesand what, ultimately, will make the world a better place for us all. Rodgers and Hammerstein weren't afraid to tackle big issues; turning them into beautiful song and amusing theatre made the "pill" much easier to swallow.
Foothill's faithful production delivers an enjoyable and satisfying entertainment, with great voices for the principal performers, and an energetic and talented ensemble. Cameron and Genovese sport great chemistry and are perfectly cast for their roles; they shine with vocal talent, bringing home those iconic standards with aplomb. Cameron deserves big kudos for his thrilling renditions of "Some Enchanted Evening," and "This Nearly Was Mine," and Genovese is perky and feisty for "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" and "A Wonderful Guy." She also manages the tricky bit of keeping Nellie sympathetic when her deeply held prejudice is revealed. The two stars carries the show, and this duo truly makes the show utterly worthwhile.
Secondary principals are equally adept: Khalikulov gets off to a slow start, but hits his stride with "Younger Than Springtime," and gets to spit nails in "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught." The chemistry between him and Nguyen is sweet and innocent, communicating volumes without dialogue. Nguyen's fabulous dance talent adds a new dimension to the role. Jacqueline De Muro, as Liat's famous enterprising mother Bloody Mary, excels at comedy and gleefully raunchy choreography, and shows off accomplished vocals in "Bali Ha'i" and "Happy Talk."
Ensembles of horny sailors and sexy nurses display a depth of talent that Foothill Music Theatre is famous for. Standouts include Steve Boisvert as the redoubtable Luther Billis; Vic Prosak as Admiral Brackett; Michael Weiland as Professor; and Ellen Presley as Lead Nurse. But, really, they all deserve notice for superb ensemble work. I loved the touch of the hula dancers.
The show runs about 2-1/2 hours, including intermission; some scenes drag a bit, and some song tempi are languorous. Choreography by Michael Ryken is fun and sassy in some numbers, surprisingly tame and tepid in others. Costumes by Robert Horek quite do the trick, especially for Luther. Scenic design by Kuo-Hao Lo evokes the soaring plantation manse and scruffy beach and war room and island paradise with deceptive ease, creating effective and attractive environments. Ruthe Stein's props add period authenticity and fun.
Even if it's been 50 years since you saw the movie, spend an enchanted evening with the talented cast of Foothill's charming and capable production, and enjoy renewing your love affair with this American masterpiece.
South Pacific, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan; presented by Foothill Music Theatre, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills; through August 10, 2014. Tickets $10-$32 at www.foothillmusicals.com or 650-949-7360.
- Jeanie K. Smith