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It is a great pleasure to report that director Matt Lenz and choreographer Michelle Lynch have breathed new life into North Carolina Theatre’s robust revival of South Pacific, playing tonight through Sunday evening in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts. They have made this venerable Rodgers and Hammerstein warhorse as frisky as a spring colt with crisp dramatic and comic staging, speedy scene-changes, and kinetic toe-tapping dance routines; and musical director Edward G. Robinson and the NCT orchestra provide robust renditions of “Some Enchanted Evening,” “There’s Nothing Like a Dame,” “Bali Ha’i,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” “I’m In Love With a Wonderful Guy,” “Younger Than Springtime,” “Happy Talk,” “Honey Bun,” and “You’ve Got to Be Taught.” From the overture to the grand finale, the stellar NCT cast and musicians make beautiful music together.
James Van Treuren and Kate Baldwin give passionate performances as middle-aged French-expatriate planter Emile de Becque and as nurse and U.S. Navy Ensign Nellie Forbush (a.k.a. Knucklehead Nellie). Their poignant reenactment of this world-famous September-May romance tugs at the audience’s heartstrings, and their superlative acting and singing sets an extremely high standard, which most of the rest of the cast meets with ease.
Baldwin and especially Van Treuren put their own special polish on the gems from this extraordinarily rich Rodgers and Hammerstein score, but Nicholas Rodriguez takes a different — and far less effective approach. He vamps to the heart-songs of Lt. Joe Cable, U.S.M.C., who is hopelessly in love with Tonkinese girlfriend Liat (Brandy Kettisack) but powerless to overcome the age-old racial prejudices that he learned in his cradle in his native Philadelphia.
Brandy Kettisack is lovely and sweet as Liat, but Rayanne Gonzales makes a most auspicious NCT debut as Liat’s mother, Bloody Mary, the money-mad Tonkinese trader. Howard Kaye, who plays equally irrepressible Seabee and entrepreneur Luther Billis with brio, joins Gonzales as the two biggest scene-stealers in the show.
Other notable performances include Tim Maculan and Rick Meadows’ pithy portrayals of Captain Brackett (a.k.a. Old Iron Belly) and Lieutenant Commander Harbison, and Maggie Anderson’s crisp cameo as Nellie’s friend and confident Ensign Dinah Murphy.
Director Matt Lenz and choreographer Michelle Lynch get strong support in making South Pacific one of this season’s highlights from executive director/producer William Jones, lighting designer Craig Stelzenmuller, costume designer Ann M. Bruskiewitz, sound designer Jonathan Parke, and production stage manager David Foster. This rollicking revival of South Pacific looks and sounds terrific. Don’t you dare miss it.
The North Carolina Theatre presents South Pacific Tuesday-Friday, May 2-5, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, May 6, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 7, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $23-$68 NCT Box Office: 919/831-6950. Group Sales: 919/664-5204 North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=8197. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052225/. Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization: http://www.rnh.com/org/ [inactive 4/08]. South Pacific: http://www.rnh.com/theatricals/show.php?show_id=37[inactive 4/08]. USO: http://www.uso.org/.