Savoyards co-directors Jo Toia and Terri Quinn, exhibiting a special talent for casting, have assembled a quality ensemble for the society’s latest production. The lead characters complement each other, the entire ensemble works well together, and the beautiful sets and costumes showcase a talented cast and catchy tunes.
Set during World War II during the Japanese occupation of the South Pacific islands, South Pacific tells the story of US Navy nurse Nellie Forbush, who falls in love with an older man, French plantation owner Emile de Becque. Also involved in the plot is Lt Joe Cable, a marine officer who falls in love with a local Polynesian girl and joins with de Becque to go behind enemy lines to rid the islands of the Japanese invaders. The story has its fair share of both drama and humour, not to mention plenty of song and dance, making it one of the most popular Rodgers and Hammerstein shows.
Particularly well cast opposite each other are Vanessa Wainwright as Nellie and Ross Muirhead as de Becque, who manage with great success to achieve the sense of romantic tension and chemistry required by the roles. Impressive also, for an amateur production, is the quality (and quantity) of the male chorus. In tune and in sync, the chorus members seem confident working as an ensemble and quite comfortable in their respective roles in the show.
The big ensemble song-and-dance routines, such as “Gonna Wash That Man”, “Nothing Like a Dame”, “Honey Bun” and “I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy” all managed to capture a sense of fun and excitement which the audience eagerly lapped up. The thrill of the chorus songs is not lost in the quieter moments either, with the slower songs making up some of the more beautiful moments in the show. Two of the most touching numbers are “Younger Than Springtime” and “Some Enchanted Evening”, which also serve to showcase the considerable vocal talents of the two lead males in the show, Christopher C. Thomas as Lt Cable and Ross Muirhead.
The overall standout performer in the play would have to have to be Vanessa Wainwright as Nellie: she not only manages to maintain a convincing Arkansas accent throughout the show, but also demonstrates both comic and dramatic acting talent, and an exceptional singing voice.
In the comedy stakes Robert Montgomery does an excellent job as Seabee Luther Billis, keeping the laughs coming throughout the show, but less satisfying is Mary Ewing as the Tonkinese con-woman Bloody Mary. Although both a competent actor and singer, not until well into the play did Ewing seem to find her rhythm in the role.
Sets and costumes are quite impressive in this production the set design shows a higher level of sophistication than most amateur theatre sets not to mention the exquisite lighting plan in place during the song “Bali H’ai”. Costumes are colourful and appropriate, and particularly effective were the various naval uniforms worn by the ensemble.
Although the show is long, running for just on three hours, it is not overbearingly so. There are plenty of interesting characters and plot developments to keep the action going, and using these to their full advantage the Savoyards manage to carry the high sense of energy through to the end. The polished tone of the show is let down only by a weak strings section in the orchestra and some change of scene delays backstage, but these put only a minor dampener on what would otherwise have been a flawless show.