With “South Pacific,” Baton Rouge Little Theater returns to the production that began its summer musical tradition 50 years ago.
Not a moment too soon.
The remaining men and women who served on those far-off islands and other fields of conflict in World War II get one more chance to remember and be remembered. And, if BRLT is around for another half-century, it will be fortunate to find a better cast.
This Rodgers and Hammerstein classic is filled with tunes that are hard not to like, such as “Some Enchanted Evening” and “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame.” But even such fun songs need not only voices, but personalities to bring them to full life.
This production, which opened last weekend under Keith Dixon’s direction, has an abundance of both.
Gerard Killebrew has as powerful a set of operatic pipes as has been on a BRLT stage in years. He also does a credible job of portraying Emile de Becque, the secretive French plantation owner whose livelihood is threatened by the war and whose heart is captured by an American military nurse, Nellie Forbush.
Not just anybody could play Nellie and not be overwhelmed in her duets with Killebrew, but Dana Todd Lux has exceptional vocal skills. While she is not the ingénue that Nellie is — for that matter, neither was Glenn Close in the 2001 TV production of this play — Lux brings an effervescent spirit and dynamic energy that makes her believable as the “cockeyed optimist” from Little Rock, Ark., who’s been swept off her feet by this older, debonair foreigner under the swaying palms and tropical sunsets.
Hers is not the only love story on the islands. Jason Dowies plays Marine Lt. Joseph Cable, who falls for the enchanting young Liat (Claire Toney) on the mysterious nearby island of Bali Hai. Dowies has a pleasant voice and an authentic military manner for his part.
The other true stars of this show are Kevin Harger as naval enlisted man Luther Billis and Ona Carson Robbins as Bloody Mary, the Tonganese woman who serves as Billis’ competitor for trinkets and souvenirs that military personnel send home. Harger is hilarious as he tries to coax Cable into securing a boat to visit Bali Hai in the song by that name, and Robbins makes the audience smile every time she is on stage.
The choral numbers are well-executed by this 30-person cast, and the men’s dancing make “Bloody Mary” and “There is Nothing Like a Dame” come alive. Abigail and Tyler Robbins also portray brother and sister as de Becque’s children and do a nice job of singing and acting.
Brad Blanchard choreographs and Richard Baker provides musical direction in this show, which runs 2 hours and 45 minutes.
The sound of President Franklin Roosevelt’s address to Congress the day after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor thrust America into the war, and the words of author James Michener, who wrote the novel that inspired the play, provide a fitting introduction to a production that take the audience back to this theater’s musical origins, and back to the “Greatest Generation.”
Both deserve a salute.