Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Walnut Street Theatre
Review by Rebecca Rendell
Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific is full to bursting with classic Broadway tunes: "Bali Ha'i," "Some Enchanted Evening," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," "A Wonderful Guy," and "Younger Than Springtime" just to name a few. Director Charles Abbott keeps the Walnut Street Theatre's latest production moving from one iconic number to the next with military precision. Several stellar performances from principal cast members make these familiar songs newly moving and memorable. There are moments when this 1949 Broadway hit shows its age (some jokes illicit groans rather than laughs and "There is Nothing Like a Dame" feels downright dated) but as a whole, the production is remarkably fun and fresh.
Photo by Photo by Mark Garvin.
Of course, South Pacific is much more than romantic ballads and upbeat musical numbers. Set in the midst of World War II, it tackles issues of racial prejudice that are timely and relevant. The plot centers around a bright-eyed Navy nurse stationed on a South Pacific island. Nellie falls head over heels in love with a charming French plantation owner, but struggles to accept his past after she meets his mixed-race children. At the same time, Lieutenant Cable falls in love with an indigenous beauty named Liat, only to find himself similarly stifled by deep-seated bias.
Kate Fahrner is sensational as young Ensign Nellie Forbush, infusing the role with youthful awkwardness and enthusiasm. Fahrner is tons of fun to watch and her unpretentious performance keeps the entire production grounded. Vocal powerhouse Paul Schoeffler is spot-on as the slightly older but still sexy plantation owner Emile de Becque. As impressive as these two performers are (and they are quite impressive), it is Lori Tan Chinn who steals the show as saucy, smart and always scheming Bloody Mary. Chinn's hilarious performance alone is worth the price of admission.
Set designer Robert Andrew Kovach and lighting designer Paul Black utilize the depth of the Walnut Street stage to successfully conjure the lush island paradise.
There is nothing particularly innovative about the production, but South Pacific is so timelessly fantastic that no innovation is really necessary. Come for the classic songs you already know and stay for performances that defy expectations.
South Pacific runs at the Walnut through October 23, 2016. For tickets and information, call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787. Tickets are also available online 24/7 by visiting www.WalnutStreetTheatre.org.
*Production And Design Staff*
Director: Charles Abbott
Choreographer: Michelle Gaudette
Musical And Vocal Director: John Daniels
Scenic Design: Robert Andrew Kovach
Lighting Design: Paul Black
Costume Design: Mary Folino
Sound Design: Ryan Peavey
Ngana: Courtney Chu+, Ella Hampton#
Jerome: Kwanchi Loo+, Ethan Jih-Cook#
Henry: Christopher Shin*
Emile De Becque: Paul Schoeffler*
Ensign Nellie Forbush: Kate Fahrner*
Bloody Mary: Lori Tan Chinn*
Luther Billis: Fran Prisco*
Stewpot: Billy D. Hart*
Professor: Ben Dibble*
Lt. Joseph Cable: Ben Michael*
Cmdr. William Harbison: Jeffrey Coon*
Captain George Brackett: Dan Olmstead*
Liat: Alison T. Chi*
Joey Abramowicz*, Shavey Brown*, Schyler Conaway*, Ben Dibble*, Jennie
Eisenhower*, Casey Elizabeth Gill*, Jessica Gruver, Maria Konstantinidis*,
Kathryn Miller, Joseph Michael O'Brien*, Owen Pelesh*, Christopher Shin*,
Chris Stevens*, Sean Thompson*
* Denotes membership in Actors' Equity Association, the professional union
of Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
+ Performs all shows Saturdays and Sundays, plus Thursday matinees on 9/22,
10/6, and 10/20.
# Performs Tuesday through Friday nights, plus Thursday matinee on 9/29.