Classic Production Of Classic “South Pacific” Closes Stages-St. Louis Season

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Joanne Javien as Bloody Mary and the Seabees in “South Pacific” at Stages-St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Rodgers and Hammerstein were said to have brought the modern musical to life with “Oklahoma” highlighted by the perfect marriage of story and songs. But “South Pacific” was even more innovative as it introduced, in 1949, a gritty story based on history that pulled no punches with it’s stance on several controversial issues that still plague us today. Stages-St. Louis has brought it to their stage once again and this is a powerful and gorgeous production that must be seen- even if you’ve seen the show time and time again.

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Leah Berry as Nellie and Michael Halling as Emile in the lovely opening scene of the Stages production of “South Pacific.” Photo: Peter Wochnicak

The direction and musical staging of Stages’ Artistic Director, Michael Hamilton, has melded beautifully with the wonderful choreography of Ellen Isom to bring a classic telling of James Michener’s “Tales Of The South Pacific” to life with a sumptuous look. Leah Berry brings a pert and cheery Nellie Forbush to us with a powerful acting job when she discovers the secret that Emile De Becque has decided to share with her. Her singing voice is powerful and playful with the diverse score of this Rodgers and Hammerstein hit. Matching her step for step is Michael Halling as the quintessential De Becque bringing a marvelous baritone to the classic “Some Enchanted Evening” and the powerful unrequited love song of the second act, “This Nearly Was Mine.”

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Matthew Hydzik as Cable and Sydney Jones as Liat in “South Pacific” at Stages-St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Matthew Hydzik does an equally powerful turn for the tenor section as Lieutenant Joe Cable. His “Younger Than Springtime” is exquisitely sung and then he gets the powerhouse number of the night with the second act masterpiece, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.” As his love interest, Sydney Jones is a gorgeous Liat and the comedy portion of the night is brought by a solid Luther Billis as portrayed by Mark Diconzo and Joanne Javien with a delightfully bossy interpretation of Bloody Mary. Also look for some outstanding work- bringing humor to a serious situation- by veterans John Flack and Steve Isom.

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Luther Billis (Mark Diconzo) struts his stuff at the holiday show in the Stages-St. Louis production of “South Pacific.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

The ensemble work is, as usual, outstanding. My wife always preferred to be in the chorus because they usually dominate the stage work and this group of seabees and nurses do just that. I referred earlier to this production of “South Pacific” as sumptuous and a lot of that has to do with the solid set design of James Wolk and the lighting design of Sean M. Savoie. Reminiscent of the latest Lincoln Center production, they show the beauty of the South Pacific area in stunning scenes and colorful effects.

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Leah Berry and the nurses perform the iconic “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair” in “South Pacific” at Stages-St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Garth Dunbar’s costumes are perfect with the possible exception of some anachronistic beige tennis shoes worn by some of the nurses. Lisa Campbell Albert does her usually steady job as musical director which brings out the lush and romantic score as well as the humor of the comedy numbers.

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The beautiful finale of “South Pacific” at Stages-St. Louis. A powerful statement that needs to be heeded today as well as it was in 1949. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Stages-St. Louis will close next season with the other Rodgers and Hammerstein hit I mention at the opening, “Oklahoma.” For now, however, give them a call at 314-821-2407 and make sure you get to this marvelous production of “South Pacific.”

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