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Rodgers & Hammerstein's soaring 'South Pacific' holds up well at Drury Lane

April 13, 2018 at 6:10 PM

Original Article: http://www.dailyherald.com/entlife/20180413/rodgers-amp-hammersteins-soaring-south-pacific-holds-up-well-at-drury-lane

At nearly 70 years old, it's amazing how well "South Pacific" holds up. The 1949 Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical wows on a number of fronts, especially in director Victor Malana Maog's solid revival for Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.

At nearly 70 years old, it's amazing how well "South Pacific" holds up. The 1949 Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical wows on a number of fronts, especially in director Victor Malana Maog's solid revival for Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.

And though "South Pacific" is essentially a paean to the regular folks who filled the ranks of World War II's victorious Allied forces, script authors Hammerstein and Josh Logan (inspired by James A. Michener's novel "Tales of the South Pacific") didn't shy away from that generation's flaws. Racist views of the time threaten to derail the two major romantic relationships of "South Pacific."

Ensign Nellie Forbush (Samantha Hill) sings a reprise of "Some Enchanted Evening" in the musical "South Pacific" at Drury Lane Theatre.
Ensign Nellie Forbush (Samantha Hill) sings a reprise of "Some Enchanted Evening" in the musical "South Pacific" at Drury Lane Theatre. - Courtesy of Brett Beiner/Drury Lane Theatre

Broadway veterans Samantha Hill ("The Phantom of the Opera") and Robert Cuccioli (a Tony Award-nominee for "Jekyll & Hyde") headline the cast. Yet it's Hill who is far more at home in the shoes of Ensign Nellie Forbush. A self-proclaimed "little hick" from Little Rock, Arkansas, Nellie is conflicted by the romantic wooing of French plantation owner Emile de Becque; Hill shows how much of a performing pro she is with effortless Southern charm.

Cuccioli certainly has the necessary leading-man looks and voice to match as de Becque. Though on opening night, Cuccioli seemed tentative and stiff in the opening scene -- it's as if he was bracing himself to scale the treacherous operatic heights of the big romantic number "Some Enchanted Evening." Cuccioli's booming Act II ballad "This Nearly was Mine" was more secure and confident, even if his French accent did go AWOL.

The merchant Bloody Mary (Yvonne Strumecki) sings "Bali Ha'i" in Rodgers and Drury Lane's production of "South Pacific."
The merchant Bloody Mary (Yvonne Strumecki) sings "Bali Ha'i" in Rodgers and Drury Lane's production of "South Pacific." - Courtesy of Brett Beiner/Drury Lane Theatre

Additional amazing singing comes from Yvonne Strumecki as the aspirant Tonkinese merchant Bloody Mary, who casts a vocal spell with the song "Bali Ha'i." The mystical moment is also a great opportunity for lighting designer Yael Lubetzky to show off with plenty of palm tree-dappled shadows and saturated color.

As the hunky marine Lt. Joe Cable, Austin Colby makes it easy to see why Bloody Mary targets his character as a potential husband for her daughter, Liat (Sarah Lo). Colby brings a boyish vulnerability to his role and the tender tenor ballad "Younger Than Springtime."

And when it comes to comic relief, Matt Crowle deploys a number of funny flourishes as the weaselly navy Seabee Luther Billis. Some of Crowle's more memorable comedy tactics range from clacking his teeth to donning island drag to show off his undulating tattooed belly.

Lt. Joe Cable (Austin Colby) sings "Younger Than Springtime" to Liat (Sarah Lo) in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific," now playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.
Lt. Joe Cable (Austin Colby) sings "Younger Than Springtime" to Liat (Sarah Lo) in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific," now playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. - Courtesy of Brett Beiner/Drury Lane Theatre

Now if "South Pacific" were written today, its authors would face criticism about perpetuating the tired Hollywood practice of romantically pairing an older man with a much younger woman. The musical also wouldn't score high with the basic feminist "Bechdel Test," since Nellie has so few onstage friendships or conversations with her fellow female nurses on topics other than men.

Yet "South Pacific" is reflective of its era when America was riding high in postwar confidence. It will likely remain a beloved relic, thriving long after living memories of World War II die out.

• • •

Location: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, (630) 530-0111 or drurylanetheatre.com

Showtimes: 1:30 p.m. Wednesday; 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday; through June 17

Tickets: $47-$62; senior discounts and dinner with show packages available

Running time: About 2 hours, 35 minutes, including intermission

Parking: Free adjacent parking garage and pay valet service

Rating: Some sexuality, but largely for general audiences


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