The Akron Symphony Orchestra and cast of South Pacific did a beautiful job of capturing the rich grandeur of the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein musical in a one-time-only special performance Saturday at the University of Akronís E.J. Thomas Hall.
The 31-member, mainly Northeast Ohio cast with three Equity actors brought the exotic locale and World War II setting to life as both members of the U.S. Navy and natives on a South Pacific island. The cast was led by Equity actress Katherine DeBoer, who created a dreamy, somewhat gawky characterization of nurse Nellie Forbush, and Baldwin Wallace voice teacher Benjamin Czarnota as the Frenchman who fervently loves her, Emile de Becque.
Czarnota led the singing with his thrilling operatic vocals, especially in the romantic favorite Some Enchanted Evening and the heartbreaking This Nearly Was Mine. Pairing his magnificent voice with the 43-member orchestra, an extremely rare treat for musical theater audiences, was enough to make one swoon.
DeBoer, a Cleveland-area performer, gave Nellie an oddly slumped posture, presumably by design. This may have been part of portraying the Arkansas woman as an everyday kind of girl. DeBoer displayed well-controlled vocals but she left me wishing she had opened up more often in her sweet spots.
Director Craig Joseph got what he aimed for in casting DeBoer and Czarnota: a winning chemistry. DeBoer illuminated how torn Nellie is about Emile after she has to confront her own ugly racist attitudes in this musical, which premiered on Broadway in 1949.
Young stars who shined in the production were Akron native/Equity actor Chad Coudriet as the sexy, sweet-voiced Lt. Cable and Akron-area actor Joe Pine as the lovably funny Luther Billis. Pine helped bring to the forefront a major plot point about Billisí self-sacrifice, done all in the name of love for a girl he can never have. Pine, who has performed regularly at Akronís Coach House Theatre and Ohio Shakespeare Festival, also showed what a talented singer and dancer he is.
Equity actress Tina Stump was an earthy, forceful hoot as paradoxically maternal figure Bloody Mary, and also didnít shy away from showing her characterís ugly side. Director Joseph didnít get to relax in the audience during the performance: He took over the part of Capt. George Brackett after an actor was let go Wednesday. Joseph brought out qualities in the otherwise officious Brackett that showed this older officer also had hot-blooded impulses in his tantalizing tropical locale.
The production had some problems with microphones that made it difficult to hear or understand members of the chorus who took turns singing solos. Some microphones didnít turn on at the correct times in both the first and second acts, which diminished the enjoyment of hearing all of the singers (carefully prepared by music director Steve Parsons) and the overall quality of the show.
Costumes by Inda Blatch-Geib were snappy, especially the sailorsí getups and sweet, stylish red-white-and-blue bathing suits for the nurses. Choreography by Michael Akers was simple but effective as the cast took over the stage and the orchestra played in the pit for the first time at E.J. Thomas Hall.
Finally, the set design by Jason Coale created a gorgeous beachfront backdrop to Emileís plantation, and lighting by Deborah Malcolm dappled palm tree designs on the stageís grand curtain even before the show began.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.