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|A CurtainUp BerkshiresReview
By Sonia Pilcer
Editor's Note:Given the fact that Sonia first saw this classic musical as a youngster and now introduced it to her young son, this is clearly one of those shows that screams: Great for the whole family! --e.s.
"Some enchanted evening" I sing as I prepare dinner; "Bali Hai" on the way out the door. Since my son and I went to see South Pacific at the Mac-Haydn, we find ourselves spontaneously breaking into song. The tunes are downright contagious! "There is nothing like a dame" over breakfast, "Gonna wash that man right out of my hair" in the shower.
Ever since Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein adapted James Michener's book Tales of the South Pacific based on his vignettes about World War II life on a Pacific island, the musical has been in almost constant production somewhere in the world. And now it's arrived full of robust energy in a tuneful version at Chatham's Mac-Haydn Theater.
I still remember when my parents went to the Broadway play with Enzio Pinza and Mary Martin. In third grade, we were taught the song 'Dites Moi" - my first foreign phrase. Later, my mother took me to see the film with Mitzi Gaynor, Rosanno Brazzi, and John Kerr, as the Lieutenant, who I fell in love with as he sang "Younger than Springtime" to beautiful France Nuyen. I also saw a production of South Pacific at Lincoln Center starring Woody Allen's former sidekick, Tony Roberts. So I have a personal history with this musical.
I am happy to report that the Mac-Haydn offers a first-rate production. "How come the actors have their backs to us?" whispered my son. But while the theater's in the round takes a little getting used to the director keeps the action moving and turning.
A three-piece band, led by Michael Ursua, discreetly positioned in the back of the theater, plays the wonderful score during the many scene changes. Shannon Polly makes an exuberant Nellie Forbush. She has the voice and gamin presence to take us through such songs as 'Cockeyed Optimist' and 'Wonderful Guy". Paul Nelson, as the mysterious Emile deBecque, looks great in a white suit. He makes a handsome, debonair romantic lead and has the vocal range to do justice to the exquisite "Some Enchanted Evening."
My own favorite character has always been Bloody Mary, here played with comic abandon by Marcia Kunkel. Her rendition of the haunting "Bali Hai" really makes one feel the call of the island. The other romance, between Lt. Joseph Cable (Kurt Martinuzzi) and Liat (Debra Buonaccorsi) is genuinely touching. Director and choreographer Joseph Patton has created some wonderful numbers for the servicemen who surround the irrascable Luther Billis (Jed Alexander) . And as Nellie's flirtatious chorus there are some lovely "dames" in 40's swimwear.
There's a folksy small town aim-to-please quality at the theater. A woman in a booth sells raffle tickets. A bag of popcorn costs $1.00. What a bargain! If you want to have a night (or afternoon) in the theater and hear all that great, nostalgic music, the Mac-Haydn's South Pacific is your ticket.