The upcoming touring revival of South Pacific, produced by Barry and Fran Weissler and Clear Channel Entertainment, gets its first public preview, of sorts, July 24 in an original staging by the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, MN.
Following the resident Minnesota run, through Aug. 12, the production loses Richard Stilwell as Emile de Becque and gains Michael Nouri as the romantic lead for the 50-week tour.
Ordway is billed as the production's original producer, and the Weisslers are taking the show on the road. The tour begins in Columbus, OH, Sept. 25, with the same creative team — Jerry Zaks (Guys and Dolls) is billed as "production consultant" on the staging directed by Scott Faris. Erin Dilly (the touring Martin Guerre, Broadway's Follies) is Nellie Forbush in Minnesota and beyond. The physical production will also tour.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning show concerns a 50-ish French planter (de Becque) who falls in love with a Navy nurse on an island during World War II.
Gary Chryst is choreographer. Designers are Derek McLane (set), Ken Billington (lighting), Gregg Barnes (costumes) and Jonathan Deans (sound design). The Ordway, which houses tours but also produces its own product, announced the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic last year, but at that point it was billed as "an Ordway Original" not related to the planned Weissler revival. When the Weisslers (Seussical, Chicago, Annie Get Your Gun) signed on, the St. Paul dates were slightly changed from the originally announced June 12-July 1 run. Now, a preview plays July 24 and opening is July 25.
An ABC television movie musical version of the 1949 classic aired in spring 2001 starring Glenn Close (who also co produced) as nurse Nellie Forbush and Harry Connick Jr. as Lt. Cable, a rich Philadelphia-raised officer who falls for an island girl and struggles with his feelings of racism. Some cuts and changes were made for the TV version.
The company of the Ordway production includes Lewis Cleale as Lt. Cable, Armelia McQueen as Bloody Mary, Kisha Howard as Liat, John Wilkerson as Capt. Brackett, David Warshofsky as Luther Billis, Jocef Baquilod as Jerome, Joreen Baquilod as Ngana and James Judy as Harbison. The ensemble includes Jody Ashworth, Melissa Rain Anderson, Frank Baiocchi, Justin Bohon, Kevin Covert, Lenny Daniel, Jessica Ferraro, Steve Hogle, Stacie Morgain Lewis, Tony Lord, Dan Maceyak, Emily Rozek, Roland Rusinek, Brandon Singleton, Dana Steer, Kate Strohbehn, Debra Walton and Shelby Rebecca Wong.
The 1949 Broadway musical with songs by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II was drawn from James Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific." The plot-specific numbers managed to leap into the public consciousness, and the Hit Parade: "Some Enchanted Evening," "Younger Than Springtime," "Bali H'ai," "A Wonderful Guy," and more. Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza were the original stars.
Director Scott Faris started his career as an actor and would go on to become a Broadway and touring stage manager. He was part of the production team that created Siegfried and Roy at the Mirage and he helmed EFX! starring Michael Crawford. He has also directed Chicago internationally.
South Pacific was considered groundbreaking for the commingling of an exotic wartime locale, its romantic plot and score and its serious exploration of racial bigotry, summed up in the Hammerstein lyric, "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught." That song is generally thought to be the reason the musical captured the Pulitzer Prize. Co-librettist Josh Logan's direction was hailed for its fluidity and sense of cinematic flow.
Ordway tickets range $24-$55. The Ordway is at 345 Washington Street in St. Paul. For information, call (651) 224-4222 or visit the website at www.ordway.org.
— By Kenneth Jones