Reagle Theatre Mounts Solid ‘South Pacific’ (3.5 Stars)

‘South Pacific’ – Composed by Richard Rodgers; Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and Book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan; Directed by David Hugo; Choreography by Rachel BertoneMusic Director,  Daniel Rodriguez. Produced by Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston at the Robinson Theatre at 617 Lexington St. Waltham, MA through June 22nd.

Whenever a theater troupe revives a classic musical like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘South Pacific’, there are bound to be comparisons to earlier Broadway productions as well as to movie versions. And while the solid but unspectacular production now being mounted by The Reagle Music Theatre in Waltham won’t make anybody forget the cast of the 1958 movie (which featured Mitzi Gaynor, Rossano Brazzi, Ray Walston and Johnny Kerr) what they will remember is the brilliant (and well executed) score that had me taking a trip down memory lane to when I first saw this master work on a black and white TV with my mother in the 60’s.

While “Some Enchanted Evening” is the centerpiece of the score and reprised throughout the show, this is a musical that is loaded with memorable tunes, and the Reagle does a bang up job with some of the numbers (particularly some of the less well-known numbers such as ‘Honey Bun” where Katie Clark (as Nellie Forbush) shines. The show also features tunes that are musical theater standards such as “There Is Nothing Like a Dame”, “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair”, “Bali Ha’i”, but I had forgotten about other gems like ‘Younger Than Springtime”, “I’m in Love With A Wonderful Guy” and the brilliant “This Nearly Was Mine”.

Drawn from the Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel by James A. Michener entitled ‘Tales of the South Pacific’, the story focuses on two improbable love stories set in the war-ravaged islands of that region during World War II. The first involves youthful Navy Ensign Nellie and her romance with Emile de Becque, a middle-aged French plantation owner. We learn immediately that he has two Polynesian children by his first (now deceased) wife, but Nellie doesn’t find out until much later in the courtship. Emile left France because he killed a man in his youth, but that isn’t what bothers Nellie. Her doubts about whether she can the stay in the romance come from Emile’s racially mixed marriage and the violation of the societal mores of the day. The same holds true for the second love story between U.S. Marine Lieutenant Cable and a young Tonkinese woman, the daughter of island entrepreneur Bloody Mary (the terrific Lydia Gaston). He falls hard for her but cannot marry a Polynesian woman due to society’s (as well as his own) prejudice towards mixing the of the races. This production seems to minimize that aspect of the story and instead lets the memorable score and production numbers carry the show.

While Clark is not as glamorous as bombshell Mitzi Gaynor (who is), she brings a hefty dose of spunk as Nellie to the role and is an energetic singer. The husky Peter S. Adams may not look the part of the suave plantation owner as depicted in other productions, but both his acting and singing compensate for the visual. Mark Linehan does a fine job as Lt. Cable, and Aaron Dore has some funny moments as Luther Billis, the conniving seaman with a good heart. There were some technical issues with the sound at the matinee I witnessed on Saturday, but overall this is a decent production of a great musical. For more information, go to: