Arena Stage artistic director Molly Smith makes her musical theatre directorial debut with the Dec. 13 opening of Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific on the Fichandler Stage in Washington, DC.
Richard White and Kate Baldwin are Emile and Nellie, respectively, in the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic based on James Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific." Previews began Dec. 6. Baayork Lee, the alumna of A Chorus Line, choreographs.
The 1949 tale of romance, passion and bigotry set during World War II has a score by composer Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and book by Josh Logan and Hammerstein. In its time, the show was praised for the richness of its score ("Some Enchanted Evening," "Bali Ha'i," "A Wonderful Guy"), its fluid, almost cinematic scenic transitions, and the socially-aware content focusing on racism. When originally staged, its cast included war veterans and it played to an audience that vividly remembered the losses of the recent conflict.
Fans of the show will note that the cut song, "My Girl Back Home," which is heard in the 1958 film, has been added to this production, with the permission of The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization.
The 2002-03 season marks Smith's fifth season at the Arena's artistic helm, and this is the first time she's directed a large-scale musical. At the start of rehearsals, Smith told the company she wants the audience to experience the story through Nellie's eyes, those of a young woman going through two disparate emotions, each for the first time: falling in love, and being surrounded by war. The urgency of the setting and situation — "when death is around the corner, sexuality becomes driven" — intrigued Smith.
In seeking "to expose the racial conflicts inherent in the piece," Smith has cast the military all Caucasian, and the Islanders are exclusively Pan-Asian," according to a spokesperson.
Performances continue to Feb. 2, 2003.
Lori Tan Chinn (M. Butterfly) plays Bloody Mary, Brad Anderson (Broadway's Fosse and Kiss Me, Kate) plays Lt. Joe Cable, Liz Paw plays Liat and Lawrence Redmond plays Luther Billis. The company includes Madeline Elena Holland (Ngana), Brian Jordan Riemer (Jerome), Tuyet Thi Pham (Bloody Mary's Assistant), Max Perlman (Stewpot), Michael L. Forrest (Professor), J. Fred Shiffman (Capt. George Brackett), Kyle Prue (Cmdr. William Harbison), with Lawrence Brimmer, Cynthia B. Lin, Kevin M. Burrows, Eddie Marco, Cathy Carey, Andy Torres, Parker Esse, Clif Walker, Deanna Harris, Christine M. Williamson, Maureen Kerrigan, Joe Langworth, Elise Molinelli, Eva Langden, Michael Omohundro and Nikki Strong.
George Fulginiti-Shakar is music director, Jose Simbulan is assistant music director. Designers are Kate Edmunds (set), Robert Perdziola (costumes), Allen Lee Hiughes (lighting), Timothy M. Thompson (sound).
Arena Stage, one of the first major American not-for-profit regional theatres, is at 1101 Sixth Street, SW, in Washington, DC. For information, visit www.arenastage.org.
— By Kenneth Jones