There is nothin' like a ... Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Far from musty textbook examples of the magnificence of the musical theater, each of the team's stage wonders offers possibilities to enrapture theatergoers - and that's both lucky first-nighters at the show's golden-era Broadway premieres and even the most jaded of contemporary audiences.
The most groundbreakingly dramatic example of Rodgers and Hammerstein's achievements that revolutionized musical storytelling, "South Pacific" remains as vibrant and powerful as the show did when it set box-office records at its 1949 opening, where it ran for nearly five years. (Yes, you read correctly: five years, or 1,925 performances to be exact). It's a genuine pleasure to be reminded of the show's majesty at a 305-seat theater.
At the Hale Center Theater Orem staging, "South Pacific" is some enchanting evening.
A thrilling staging of "South Pacific" depends most of all on its leads. There's been so many wood-stiff Emile de Becques and dishwater-drab yet operatic-voiced Nellie Forbushes to be impossible to count. Yet Dallyn Vail Bayles and Kelly Hennessey embrace their roles and more than exceed the drama, romance and musicality that the parts require. Bayles and Hennessey are impressively vocally, granted, but in their hands the duets are true musical conversations, each sounding fresh and exciting. Initially reserved with a quiet masculinity, Bayles brings warmth and playful spontaneity - and a creamy vocal intensity. Hennessey is a true charmer as Knucklehead Nellie, full of exuberant joy but has a heartbreaking tenderness.
Blake Barlow gets his laughs as Luther Billis, jiggling his tattooed belly with aplomb. Elisa Eklof Smith's Bloody Mary makes us believe Bali Ha'i is better than paradise. And only a naïve viewer would question why the beautiful Smith was cast in the role (or see the character as traditionally gap-toothed.) With a delightful Rebecca Burroughs as Liat, "Happy Talk" is more memorable than usual. It's fun to recognize that Smith's son, Hyrum David Malosi Smith, plays Jerome, with Abby Hill and Giselle Paz double-cast as Ngana. Taylor Eliason is at his best when he talk-sings "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught."
Director Marcie Jacobsen stages the action nicely, with quick scene changes and a wonderful flow, and the ensemble singing is particularly beautiful to hear. Her only struggle is knowing what to do with the talented ensemble actors. On a 320-square-foot stage it's certainly difficult to present a robust "Nothin' Like a Dame" (and don't wait for a cartwheel from Nellie), and Jacobsen gets little assistance from choreographer Jennifer Hill-Barlow. The show's love-hungry Seabees are neutered and free of individual character traits. However, each actor is wonderfully costumed by Maryann Hill, with fine attention to detail. It's clear she particularly enjoyed wardrobing the show-within-the-show "Thanksgiving Follies" cast.
TOP: Kelly Hennessey and Dallyn Vail Bayles as Nellie and de Becque
BOTTOM: Elisa Eklof Smith as Bloody Mary
Photos by Pete Widtfeldt ©2012 CanIGetACopy.com.