Richard White and Kate Baldwin are Emile and Nellie, respectively, in Arena Stage's upcoming production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific, directed by Arena artistic director Molly Smith and choreographed by A Chorus Line alumna Baayork Lee.
Rehearsals began Nov. 5 for the Washington, DC, resident staging of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical about romance, passion and bigotry set during World War II. Hammerstein and Josh Logan wrote the libretto, drawing from James Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific." The 1949 score is by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics) and includes the durable "Some Enchanted Evening." Fans of the show will be interested to know the cut song, "My Girl Back Home," which is heard in the 1958 film, has been added to this production.
Baldwin appeared on Broadway in The Full Monty and in the original cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie, and played Clara in the Wilma Theatre staging of Passion. White's many credits include playing the title role in Maury Yeston's Phantom (preserved on CD) and performing the voice of Gaston in the film, "Beauty and the Beast."
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. 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 at the Arena's Fichandler stage begin Dec. 6 and continue to Feb. 2, 2003. Opening night is Dec. 13.
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, Mia Whang, Joe Langworth, Elise Molinelli, Eva Langden and Michael Omohundro.
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