Crighton’s “South Pacific” Has Much to Offer

When I was just a young lad becoming aware of Rodgers & Hammerstein treasures like “Carousel” and “Oklahoma,” the film version of another of their gems arrived at the hometown Paramount Theatre where I was to get my start as a critic many years later. The movie was South Pacific,” and even now, I can remember the thrill of the music, color, and cinematography in the haunting “Bali Ha’i ” number.  For those who loved the show or movie, and even for those who simply want to become familiar with this classic, it is time for a visit to Conroe’s Crighton Theatre. It always seems a treat to review the work of the Crighton Players, and while this is by no means their greatest achievement, it is none the less a show that has much to offer.

Directed by Marty Craig (whose recent Crighton successes included “Stalag 17,” and the stunning “Cinderella”), South Pacific sported another fine set design from Ron Craig. Reminding me of my recent visit to Australia’s beautiful eastern coast, the set featured palm trees, gardens, and mountain seascapes decorating the main stage. Then a thatched native hut, and a military office thrust themselves into the audience at either end of the stage. Scenes would play well in each of these arenas.

On this Opening Night there was an excited buzz of anticipation in the audience; and I could overhear the enthusiasm of several newcomers “discovering” the Crighton’s charming interior for the first time. Popular area Musical Director, Dave Englert, had his generous 18-piece orchestra sequestered out of sight in a kind of enclosed “pit” that abutted the stage. Unfortunately, the enclosure substantially muddied the sound of their fine effort. In the lovely “Overture,” there was also a tendency for the keyboard to better project from the enclosure, and thus, to overwhelm the other instruments. Meanwhile, Choral Director, Orvis Melvin, must be commended for his exceptional results with the French children in the cast, portrayed by Andy Chandler, Alexandra Cochran and Elaina Espinoza. The clear, sweet voices of the lovely “Dites-Moi” number are pleasantly with me yet. And speaking of lovely voices, beautiful Blythe Herring (last season’s Cinderella) is back at Crighton with a perky and delightful characterization of Nellie Forbush, one of the many naval personnel on a Pacific island during World War II. A recent Miss Texas contestant, Herring’s naturalness, fine singing, and shining eyes light up the stage during “A Cockeyed Optimist.” Her singing is even better when she begins her romance with enigmatic plantation owner, Emile de Beque (deep-voiced baritone, Gary Hood) and joins him in the rich duet of  “Twin Soliloquies.” Hood moves things to yet another level with his passionate, “Some Enchanted Evening.” As “Bloody Mary”, Terry Woods is a cackling hoot and brings lots of fun to the rowdy song of the same name, while choreographer, Georganna Mills, supplies cute dance routines for the chorus. Then we meet fast talking naval hustler, Luther Billis (Brian Hughes), as he leads the sailors with a deliciously silly, “There is Nothing Like a Dame.” While the number is not strong vocally, Hughes brought comic flair to his portrayal of this con artist.

The aforementioned “Bali Ha’i” number came off as very flat, and lacked the mystery that is central to the exotic island’s place in the story. The static poses of the cast did not supply this mystery, and much more should have been done with lighting to create the eerie atmosphere that attracts the sailors to the Bali Ha’i shores. There were, however, some fine sound effects from engineer, Don Hampton.

Dale Trimble and Jim Bingham are convincing as naval officers, Captain Brackett and Commander Harbison. Trimble supplied many laughs as his Brackett rages at Lt. Cable (Chris Thomas) for not respecting age and experience over youth.  Then came a very well done “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out-a My Hair.” Herring’s voice sets a standard for excellence. With compelling stage presence, she is not afraid to confront the audience directly. The girl’s chorus has adorable choreography here, the Lynn Peverill costumes are terrific, and the onstage shower contraption works very well while Herring, with great poise, actually washes her hair on stage!

When Emile reappears, Nellie’s sweet shyness is overcome during their lovely reprise of “Some Enchanted Evening.” Next, Nellie’s “A Wonderful Guy” is as bright as her radiant smile. But the mocking shenanigans from her chorus of girlfriends seem awkward and overdone, distracting from the fine singing of Miss Herring. I wish they had danced more and mocked less. Meanwhile, on Bali Ha’i, the exotic native ceremony and stick dance was well staged and choreographed. In a whirlwind romance, Cable serenade’s Mary’s native daughter, Liat (Ginny Mendez). Mr. Thomas’ solo of “Younger Than Springtime” was heartfelt but not musically appealing. Peverill’s costumes for the formal party that closed Act One were lushly beautiful. And Mr. Hood and Miss Herring duet divinely before the curtain comes down following Nellie’s discovery that Emile fathered children with a native woman, his late wife.

The “Entr’acte” music was muffled by the stage and Mary’s duet with Liat was nice but too fast a tempo. (The same problem would surface when Cable sings “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” at too fast a speed. ) The Thanksgiving Follies scene was well introduced by Captain Brackett with Trimble reminding me a bit of General Patton. Herring’s “Honey Bun” is right on target, and it’s a romp with comical Hughes flouncing about the stage in a grass skirt and coconut bra, while the chorus adds to the merrymaking.  Hood’s “This Nearly Was Mine” resonated with passion and brought warm applause. There was more to come when the final curtain came down.

(The Villager    9.4.03)

(The Courier    9.7.03)

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About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the Lambs Club, he is also editor of The Lambs' Script. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic@earthlink.net.
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