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A New Look At South Pacific 
Classic Rodgers & Hammerstein's production illustrates the power of prejudice and intolerance
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  SINCE its premiere on Broadway in 1949, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific continues to be an entertaining, thought-provoking production that not only highlights prejudices but sends a message about racism and intolerance. 
   In each remake, reimage, redo or revise of a classic production, the multiple skills of the creative team and the cast are equally important, but it is the cast who has to, as they say, “make the sale” to the audience. And in Drury Lane Theatre’s production that runs through June 17, this cast not only makes the sale, it takes care of the delivery as well.
   In the 10-time Tony Award-winning musical, director Victor Malana Maog molds a superb cast to focus on two love stories, enchanting love stories that are filled with beautiful possibilities, but eventually are doomed by preconceived notions and prejudices that are bigger than love itself. 
   Surrounded by the beauty of a South Pacific island during World War II, Ensign Nellie Forbush (Samantha Hill), a nurse from Little Rock who is a self-proclaimed “hick,” slowly and unsurely falls in love with the more mature Emile de Becqua (Robert Cuccioli), an expatriate French plantation owner who feels that his new romance is about to change his whole world after the death of his wife. Everything moves along wonderfully until Nellie puts on the brakes after learning that her husband-to-be has two mixed-race children with his deceased Polynesian wife that she can’t accept. Just as eye-opening is the connection between U.S. Lt. Joseph Cable (Austin Colby) and Liat (Sarah Lo), a young Tonkinese woman who Cable finds on Bali Ha'i but is fearful of social consequences if he were to marry his Asian sweetheart. 
   Strong supporting actors help to tie the stories together, thanks to the skills of actors such as Yvonne Strumecki (“Bloody Mary”), Liat’s mother, who makes a living by selling grass skirts and other trinkets, including “shrunken heads,” and Matt Crowle, a veteran of Drury Lane productions who is the amusing leader of the Seabees.
   “It’s not every day that a theater is brave enough to go into the complexity of race, patriotism, and loss,” says director Maog, who grew up in the Philippines during Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law. “Our creative team knows both the sweeping enchantment and the realities of this story on many levels. Choreographer Otis Sallid has broken numerous barriers in entertainment, and I wanted his inventiveness, passion, and bravery to infuse the conversations around this groundbreaking musical. We understand the responsibility to the many voices, heard and unheard, in this musical. In our storytelling, we’ll highlight both the romance and some bitter truths.”
   On stage, the beauty of the island is captivatingly reflected by the luscious sets created by scenic designer Scott Davis, using a collection of swaying palm trees and an inviting backdrop of an azure sky with puffy white clouds. Just as important is the musical score put together by music director Roberta Duchak, who worked with a collection of the classics that tug at the heart, including “Some Enchanting Evening,” “This Nearly Was Mine,” “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,” “Bali Ha'i,” “Wonderful Guy,” “My Girl Back Home” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair.” The production is further enhanced by the works of costume designer Olivera Gajic and lighting designer Yael Lubetzky.
   South Pacific, in its latest form, excels by relying on a subject––racism––that has been the focus of many other productions over the years, and it still yields a spirited response from the audience, especially when romance is involved. Nearly 70 years after its Broadway debut, the production shows that no matter the location––whether it’s a lush Southern Pacific island or in the smallest town in the South––racism still doggedly permeates many parts of our lives.
–– Walter Leavy
Show schedule: Wednesdays, 1:30 p.m.; Thursdays, 1:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m. Saturdays, 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Ticket prices: $47 - $62. Wednesday and Thursday matinees, $47;Thursday and Sunday evenings, $57; Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees, $62. Student group tickets start at $30. Senior citizens tickets start at $40 for matinees. Dinner and show packages are available. For more information, go to www.drurylanetheatre.com.
Ensign Nellie Forbush (Samantha Hill) shares her romantic news with other military nurses in a scene from South Pacific at Drury Lane Theatre.
Ensign Forbush is pursued by Emile de Becqua (Robert Cuccioli), who wants to marry her. Below, Bloody Mary (Yvonne Strumecki) has to deal with a group of high-strung Seabees.
Photography by Brett Beiner