Plaza Theatricals The production of SOUTH PACIFIC by Rodgers and Hammerstein was “an enchanted evening!
CBS News recently reported on the “Long Island Theater Renaissance”. One of the theaters / actor companies featured in the report was the Elmont Memorial Library Theater – Home of Plaza Theatricals, the only professional equity theater in Nassau County. On October 6, the curtain rose on the first production of their first season, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. I had the privilege of seeing the production on its closing weekend and all I can say is that it was “an enchanted evening”.
The classic 1949 musical is adapted from James A. Michenerthe Pulitzer Prize winning book, Tales from the South Pacific, which tackles controversial topics such as prejudice and the politics of war head-on. Set during World War II, on an island in the Pacific, the story centers on two parallel love stories. American nurse Ensign Nellie Forbush falls in love at first sight with the owner of the local plantation, Frenchman Emile de Becque. Newly arrived Lieutenant Joe Cable falls in love at first sight with Liat, an innocent local Tonkinese girl. Interestingly enough, these relationships are not necessarily challenged by the looming threat of Japanese attacks, but rather are threatened and affected by American attitudes toward the race. World War II began in 1939 and ended in 1945. Racism, it seems, is unfortunately a never-ending war. You would think that after 50 years of civil rights, racism would be a thing of the past. If you look back over the past 4 years, you can clearly see that this is not the case.
Kevin Harrington put on an exquisite production. I thought his addition of his tribute to the troops at the top of the show was a really nice touch. The 20-plus-year-old ensemble performed a well-choreographed march to Radio City Rockettes and presented the flag. A moving acapella performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” followed. Immediately afterwards, the fantastic 16-piece orchestra, conducted by Alex Harrington, brought Rodgers and Hammerstein’s magnificent score to life. In my opinion, South Pacific is one of the best scores in the history of American musical theater. This is, as far as I know, one of the only sheet music to have all of the songs in the series covered by popular artists. Brett Martinez designed a beautiful set bordered by palm trees. Its decor and backdrops echoed a Bob ross The painting. Glen Davis provided brilliant mood lighting throughout the show. Daytime scenes were backlit with crystal blue emulating the surrounding beautiful Pacific Ocean. Purple was used to help Bloody Mary get Lieutenant Cable in to visit “Bali Hai”. I especially liked the hot pink used to permeate the sunsets. The real icing on the cake of this production was Barbara kirbyauthentic costumes. She really captured the period with her brilliant picks. The trio of Martinez, Davis and Kirby knew how to brilliantly recreate the setting and the time of this magnificent piece.
During my performance, I had the honor of seeing Kate wesler play the role of Nellie; Madison Claire Parks is at the origin of the role of this production. Mrs. Wesler truly captures Nellie’s wholesomeness. She really breathes Nellie’s inner conflict; she wants to be a staunch companion of Emile, but at the same time, she conflicts with the racist ideals she was raised on in Little Rock, Arkansas. Little Michener, Hammerstein or Book Writer John logan know that Nellie’s hometown of Little Rock would be the first city to implement inclusive schools during the civil rights movement. I just wish Mrs. Wesler had really washed her hair during “I’m going to wash this man straight from my hair.” It’s so symbolic to see Nellie washing her hair during this issue. Using a cold whisk-like foam to mimic “cleaning” really diminishes the message.
The real star of this production is Jacques Sasser like Emilie de Becque. I’ve been writing reviews on the Long Island Theater for BroadwayWorld for 5 years now. Mr. Sasser has by far the most beautiful voice I have ever heard on Long Island. I got chills down my spine with each of his musical numbers. His baritone is gloriously rich and powerful and does justice to “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine”. Plaza’s next production will be Man from La Mancha. Based on his performance as Emile, Mr. Sasser would hit Miguel de Cervantes/ Don Quixote out of the park if the opportunity arises. Clue, clue, Mr. Harrington. Andrew Brewer bring a candle to Lieutenant Cable. Jordan bell makes laugh and brings great warmth to his Luther Billis. One of the two stage thieves was Peter McClurg as Captain Brackett. Mr. McClurg’s childbirth reminded me Lee J. Cobb. Much like his character, he was really in charge of the scene every time.
The other scene thief of the evening was Lydie Gaston as Bloody Mary, an island wheel merchant and Liat’s mother. Ms. Gaston brought a new depth to her character. She not only mystifies Lieutenant Cable, but the entire audience with her performance of “Bali Hai”. I was ready to book a flight to Hawaii on my own. What was particularly haunting was his performance of “Happy Talk” at the start of Act II. Normally, this song is considered a song to convince Lieutenant Cable to fall in love with Liat even more. If you really analyze the lyrics and, in this case, how the song is performed, it’s really about a mother’s desperation. All Bloody Mary wants is a really happy life for her daughter. As this number is played, Liat is “promised” to a much older, wealthy French plantation owner (not Emile). Deep down, Bloody Mary knows that Liat would be happier with Lieutenant Cable, much younger and beefier. The song essentially involves the âpimpingâ of Bloody Mary, for lack of a better word, her daughter to Cable. Sadly, the relationship is never meant to be due to Lieutenant Cable’s “carefully taught” racist upbringing. The depth that Ms. Gaston was able to show with this role is a real indicator of her great actress.
Plaza ‘Theatricals’ production of South Pacific was as close to Broadway as Nassau County will ever be. I can’t wait to see what they do with their future productions. The next show at the Plaza will be Man of the Channel,November 20, 2021 – December 12, 2021. After that there will be the Long Island premieres of The color purple, March 12, 2022 – April 3, 2022, and Something rotten!, May 21, 2022 – June 12, 2022.
You can see photos of the productions here: / long-island / article / Photos-Premier-Regard-A-PACIFIQUE-SUD-At-Plazas-Broadway-Long-Island-20211013
You can buy tickets for their upcoming productions here: https://plazabroadwaylongisland.com
Please note: you must provide proof of COVID vaccination upon entry and wear a mask throughout production.