West Coast Florida
Asolo Rep made no secret that this production of South Pacific was going to be a smaller version, only 19 cast members and eight in the orchestra pit playing new orchestrations by Brad Haak. I feared being underwhelmed, but it is a triumph. Playing Emil is Ben Davis, who last year played Gaylord Ravenal in Show Boat. I am astounded at his ability to go from last year's high baritone, possibly even tenorish, part to the deep bass-baritone required here. The part is often cast from the world of opera. Mr. Davis' singing is rich and full in his two solos, "Some Enchanted Evening" and "This Nearly Was Mine." Coming more from musical theater, his acting is equally strong. Kelly Felthous plays "knucklehead" Nellie Forbush, a confirmed "Cockeyed Optimist." She is vivacious and youthfully exuberant at all the right times and knocks "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" and "A Wonderful Guy" right out of the musical comedy ballpark. Asolo is lucky to secure Loretta Ables Sayre to repeat her Tony nominated performance as Bloody Mary. Rarely is someone who is capable of singing the haunting "Bali Hai" also able to put over the comedy that is such an important part of the role, but Ms. Sayre does. Anthony Festa has the matinee idol looks and beautiful high baritone necessary for Lieutenant Joe Cable. Benjamin Howes capably handles the comedy role of Luther Billis. The ensemble and small roles are all well cast. While I would certainly love to have four more Seabees and two or three more nurses, such numbers as "Nothing Like a Dame" and "Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," which have important contributions from the chorus, don't suffer.
The excellence of the entire production is a tribute to Rob Ruggiero, who has directed this show several times recently, including at the St. Louis Muny which has 5,000 seats and where the production was definitely not small. Choreography by Ralph Perkins is fine throughout, especially in "Bloody Mary" and "Nothing Like a Dame." The scenic design by Michael Schweikardt is spectaculara revolving stage functions for Emil's patio and the beach, with set pieces to define the shower Nellie uses to wash her hair, the stage for the "Thanksgiving Follies," and other locations. Costumes by Leon Dobkowski are exceptional with lots of attention paid to the military uniforms, except for a conspicuous lack of medals on those of the higher officers. The backdrop of the ocean makes for spectacular vistas in the ever-changing lighting design of John Lasiter. All of these elements are so fine that it might be possible to rent this production out to other theaters.
The music direction is in the capable hands of William Waldrop. He conducts with great sensitivity to both the romantic sweep and comic high jinx of Rodgers' score.
I can't imagine a better way to open a new season than a wonderful production of South Pacific.
Asolo Repertory Theater presentsSouth Pacific, through December 28, 2014, at the Mertz Theater in the FSU Center. 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, Florida. Box Office (941) 351-8000. For more information visit www.asolorep.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):
* Denotes Member of Actor's Equity Association
Band (in alphabetical order)
Directed by Rob Ruggiero