Monday, April 30, 2018

Review: Romance and Racism are Testy Bedfellows in SOUTH PACIFIC

Stephanie Renee Wall and John Cudia. Photo by Michael Lamont

Glenn Casale directs this Rodgers & Hammerstein gem dealing with romance and racism in the South Pacific during World War II. The score is classic R&H, a musician’s dream list of gorgeous melodies and keen lyrics performed with tremendous sensitivity by its intelligent cast and a sterling14-piece orchestra led by musical director Brent Crayon.

As the tropical breezes blow, two sets of lovers wrestle with what it means to follow your heart despite a lifetime of learning to hate anyone who is different. It is an issue that makes South Pacific as relevant today as when it was first written. In fact, Rodgers and Hammerstein specifically adapted James A. Michener’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Tales of the South Pacific to highlight racial injustice so that audiences would be forced to confront their own behavior. At the time, it was a pretty bold limb to go out on, and it is still as necessary to tell this story now as it was then. I guarantee it will shock you at least once in the course of its nearly three hour tale.

Stephanie Renee Wall is Navy nurse Nellie Forbush, who falls in love with a Frenchman escaping his past (John Cudia as Emile de Becque) but bolts when she learns he has children by a native woman. Matt Rosell is Lt. Joe Cable, a blue blood Ivy leaguer who gives his heart to a Tonkinese girl (Hajin Cho as Liat) until he realizes he can never take her home to meet his family.

In each case, their worlds begin far apart but, like any cathartic experience, they increasingly intrude upon each other until opinions change and growth happens. Their stories are bittersweet and show the best and the worst of humanity.

The company does six performances a week and at the matinee I attended performances were technically spot-on but didn’t connect emotionally as they could have. My sense was that the cast was tired since it was the last performance of the week. South Pacific has an effervescence to it that moves in partnership with its heavier undertones and that was missing on Sunday.

Cudia and Rosell’s voices are bright, rich, and beautifully resonant but their acting is stiff. The former sounds like he is continually making a speech to someone across the room and the latter could use a shot of personality. Wall is a likable awkward young woman who brightens the stage whenever she arrives, making it all the more shattering when her bigoted behavior is revealed.

Stephanie Renee Wall and Jeff Skowron, Photo by Michael Lamont

Jodi Kimura’s experience with the role of Bloody Mary (she’s played it many times before) makes her a standout in this production. Her ballsy demeanor covers a mother’s desperate desire to provide a better life for her daughter and you can see it in her watery eyes. Jeff Skowron’s Luther Billis is less comic relief and more wry wheeler-dealer but his “Honey Bun” with Wall is an all-out winner. A rousing bunch of male chorus members add immediate energy with Peggy Hickey’s boisterous choreography when they arrive for “There is Nothing Like a Dame.”

April 20 – May 13, 2018
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
14900 La Mirada Blvd. La Mirada, CA 90638
Tickets: (562) 944-9801 or

Matt Rosell and Jodi Kimura. Photo by Michael Lamont

John Cudia, Araceli Prasarttongosoth, Lucas Jaye and Stephanie Wall
Photo by Austin Bauman

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