An Excellent Production of “South Pacific” at Wick Theatre
By Skip Sheffield
“South Pacific” has been part of my DNA since age 9, when we first saw it at Coconut Grove Playhouse with Betsy Palmer as Nellie Forbush. The production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic runs through Feb. 14 at the Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton.
I also saw “South Pacific” with someone I love, which only enhanced the experience.
“South Pacific” is all about love under duress in an exotic location. It’s during World War II on two remote islands in the French Polynesian South Pacific. Emile De Beque (Nat Chandler) is a French expatriate who fled his country after he killed a man in what he considered to be a justifiable homicide. Nellie Forbush (Adrianne Hick) is a self-described “hick from the sticks” of Arkansas and a Navy nurse. Nellie is also a “Cockeyed Optimist” as she sings in her first song with Emile De Beque.
There is a secondary romance going on, between Lt. Cable (Marc Koeck) and Liat (Jen Chia) the beautiful daughter of local Polynesian entrepreneur Bloody Mary (Amy Jo Phillips). Bloody Mary wants the best for her daughter, and she sees Lt. Cable as her ticket to ride. Additional comic relief is delivered by Michael Iannucci as seaman Luther Billis.
You can’t have love without conflict. In the case of both Nellie and Lt. Cable there are inherent prejudices. “South Pacific’ has a strong message on racial prejudice, especially considering it was written in 1949 by Oscar Hammerstein and Joshua Logan, who directed the original Broadway production.
I had the privilege of knowing Mr. Logan when he was artist-in-residence at FAU. Logan was from Texarkana, Texas, but raised in Mansfield, Louisiana in the Deep South. Racial prejudice is brought up in the brilliantly ironic song “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,” sung by Lt. Cable. But as I said at the outset, “South Pacific” is about love; romantic love, with all the joy and pain that entails. The most famous song in “South Pacific” is “Some Enchanted Evening,” but my favorite is “This Nearly Was Mine,” sung by Emile De Beque.
Nat Chandler has the requisite rich baritone for that song, but moreover he was the maturity and experience to invest the words with the proper gravity and sorrow. As good as Adrianne Hick, Amy Jo Phillips and Marc Koeck are, this is Nat Chandler’s showcase. I think it is the best performance of Emile De Beque since I saw Robert Goulet do the role at Parker Playhouse in 1995. Kudos to director Norb Joerder and musical director Michael Urusua (though the music is recorded), this is a most excellent production of a timeless American Musical classic.
Tickets are $85. Call 561-995-2333 or go to www.thewick.org.