Perhaps it was inevitable that after ten years of successful musicals from director, Keith Brumfield, and the youthful stars of his popular Class Act Productions, it would finally come to pass that an adult repertory group would emerge from the growing number of Class Act alumni in the Montgomery County area. And so it was that this month’s debut of The Woodlands Repertory Theatre brought Class Act to yet another level with the new company’s often delightful opening production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.” Happily, last Thursday’s Opening Night went on in spite of an ironic twist, as this tale of a tropical island paradise unfolded against the disturbing real-life back-story that on the very same day, many nearby Houston area communities had suffered devastating flooding from a tropical storm named Erin.
Never the less, Musical Director, Rae Moses, quickly had audience expectations in high gear as he conducted the fine nine-member orchestra in the show’s beautiful Overture. When the curtain rises on the lush and sunlit veranda of oceanfront plantation owner, Emile de Becque (Craig Boudreaux), his young children, Ngana and Jerome (Mallory Bechtel and Domenic Zirilli), sweetly sing the charming French song, “Dites-Moi.” On the elegant set (designer, Jonathan Shelledy, Scenic Artist, Joan Rothhammer), flowers abound, birds sing, and the sea is gently lapping in the distance. (Sound design, Daniel Karr). Ensign Nellie Forbush (Kelly Smith) arrives, and Smith brings forth a convincingly innocent and infectious optimism as Nellie describes herself in song with, “A Cockeyed Optimist.” Romance begins to flower under rosy sunset lighting ( designer, Al Fajardo), while with mutual affection Nellie and de Becque duet sublimely in “Twin Soliloquies.” Smith’s naturalness and lovely voice were nicely complemented by Mr. Boudreaux’s rich baritone. She dances well, and offers feisty and delicious vocal exuberance in, “I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy.” He goes on to bring an endearing quality to the classic, “Some Enchanted Evening.” Only in the Act One closer, “This is How it Feels,” did the two seem to struggle for matching vocal keys.
For a light and playful change of pace, Nellie and the nurses frolic freely on the beach with, “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair (gay costumes from designer, Caroline Zirilli, with choreography by Class Act alum, Megan Kane, who also doubled as the show’s assistant director, even while preparing to head off for her senior year at Webster Conservatory for the Performing Arts). A lighter mood also surrounds the lusty group of sailors led by the best military hustler since Sergeant Bilko, Luther Billis (Connor McCollum). While McCollum’s amusing performance is occasionally a bit heavy-handed (and he sometimes tends to race the dialogue), the group lights up the stage with such rowdy knockout numbers as “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” and “Bloody Mary.” And speaking of Bloody Mary, Sherry Hunyadi brings a great sense of fun (and a very fine voice) to this portrayal of the merry and mysterious island woman who would like nothing better than to see her lovely Polynesian daughter, Liat (Dalin Woolery) , married to the “saxy” new marine Lieutenant on the island, Joe Cable (Spenser Crosswy). With his pleasant singing voice, Mr. Crosswy was fresh off his recent success as free-wheeling Rooster in Class Act’s “Annie.” On this opening night, his performance as Cable seemed nervously stiff, but his voice was on target for both the tender, “Younger than Springtime,” and the controversial (in 1950’s America) R&H look at racism with, “You‘ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” Meanwhile, Miss Hunyadi, creates just the right atmosphere of mystery, singing beautifully about the off-limits island of nearby “Bali Ha’i.”
The naval base officers, blustering Commander Harrison (Kelly Flowers), and his second in command, Capt. George Brackett (E.J. Hunyadi), bring some comic touches to the proceedings, but as Lt. Cable and De Becque are sent off on a dangerous military mission, many of the should-be-tense Act Two scenes in command headquarters seemed to fall flat, never quite catching fire. But Act Two did have lots of fun with the cheerful “Happy Talk,” from Mary, Cable and Liat, as well as the fun-filled naval base Thanksgiving show that featured a well-choreographed and uproarious, “Honey Bun,” from the nurses and a beaming Nellie, not to mention the hilarity of Luther’s raucous romp in “drag.” And of course there’s always an unanticipated Opening Night surprise, and in this case it was a rather large set-piece that stunned both audience and performers as it came falling from somewhere on high, only to break apart on the stage dangerously close to the musicians in the pit. To their credit, both musicians and actors carried on as though nothing had happened.
As various final plot twists are resolved, Boudreaux offers a lushly powerful, “This Nearly Was Mine,” and Nellie sweetly reprises a song that sums it all up. After all, in many ways this really was, “Some Enchanted Evening.”
Forthcoming Woodlands Repertory productions are slated to include “The Fantasticks” (January 2008), and “Fiddler on the Roof” (July 2008). For further information visit the website at www.TheWoodlandsRep.org.
(The Courier 8.19.07)