south pacific

Ensign Nellie Forbush (Hannah Young) and islander Emile de Becque (Jonah Hardt) find love during World War II in McLennan Theatre’s production of “South Pacific.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson

While the romance and messages on racism in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific” still hold up almost 70 years after its Broadway debut, theaters usually depend on the available talent for their timing.

The student talent has aligned for McLennan Theatre this year, leading the theater to present it as this season’s musical, said its director, Kelly Parker.

“We’ve got some really amazing voices in our theater group and we don’t always get those people,” he said. “It makes a major difference when you have people who fit the roles.”

The 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical follows American nurse Nellie Forbush (Hannah Young), who’s stationed on a South Pacific island during World War II and falls in love with the French plantation owner Emile de Becque (Jonah Hardt). Their relationship stumbles, however, when it comes to her acceptance of his mixed race children.

Another island romance, that between Navy Lt. Joe Cable (Christian Trigleth) and islander Liat (Brice Garcia), also comes up against the issue of racism.

“South Pacific” carried more of a social message than other Rodgers and Hammerstein creations, but its music made it a Broadway classic with such songs as “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Nothing Like A Dame,” “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” and “Bali Ha’i.” When it arrived on Broadway, the musical found a ready audience, running for a record-breaking 1,925 performances.

Parker said the musical, which enjoyed a 2008 revival on Broadway, still works for contemporary casts and audiences. “This show is so straightforward. The characters are pretty direct. If you can tell that (story) with honesty, it works,” he said. “This really is (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s) masterpiece. Every song is gold.”

Parker directs a company of more than 30 actors, with Elizabeth Talbot leading choreography and stage movement and Daniel Ferris directing the music.

While some productions have drawn criticism in recent years for the portrayal of the musical’s Polynesian characters, the McLennan Theatre one will stick with its cast’s natural ethnic diversity to reflect that of the musical. “We will not be doing any sort of makeup,” Parker noted. “We have a very diverse campus so we try to embrace it as much as we can.”

The Feb. 24 performance is part of the MCC Foundation’s Hearts in the Arts Gala which includes a 6 p.m. dinner reception at MCC’s Northwood House and a dessert reception following the evening’s performance. Tickets are $75 and available through Friday by calling 299-8604 or emailing reservations@mclennan.edu.

Tribune-Herald entertainment editor