Director Tod Booth's classic revival of Rodgers
and Hammerstein's "South Pacific" at Alhambra Theatre & Dining epitomizes how a timeless work of art should be recreated. An exceptionally talented cast explores themes of racial prejudice and romance against a tropical island backdrop during World War II.
Ashlie Roberson and Christopher Sanders capture the audience from the moment they walk onstage. Roberson is exquisite, infusing just the right amounts of naïveté, exuberance and self-consciousness into Navy nurse Nellie Forbush. Her bell-like singing voice and perfect tone prove undeniably worthy of the role that Mary Martin first made unforgettable when "South Pacific" debuted on Broadway in 1949. As French landowner Emile de Becque, with a complicated past, Sanders delivers one major reason to see the show: the richness of his singing voice.
As their story unfolds, it's impossible not to get caught up in the romance between older, sophisticated Emile, a man of many secrets, and youthful, sweet Nellie, a country girl who both wants and desperately needs to broaden her view of the world.
Alex Markowitz plays the young officer candidate school alum Lt. Joseph Cable, who has just arrived on the island, eager to prove himself on a dangerous mission. After a few moments of stiffness early on, Markowitz relaxed by the time he sang the haunting "Bali Ha'i." As pleasing to hear as he is to watch, Markowitz delivers an especially effective performance in the scenes involving his romance with island girl Liat, played by the well-cast Rea Eang in her Alhambra debut.
"Laverne & Shirley" alum Eddie Mekka as Luther Billis and Nicole Lee as Bloody Mary provide the comic relief. Lee's performance threatens to steal the first act; she is utterly believable, sympathetic even, as a character who could easily be reduced to caricature and vice. The show really gets going when she sings "Bali Ha'i." And Mekka excels as the quintessential lovable, scheming oaf. He shines particularly bright in the second act, where he's far lighter on his feet than one would expect, leaving the audience shaking with laughter.
It's easy to see why David Poirier, in the role of Capt. George Brackett for the third time, was again chosen for the part; he's so great it's almost a shame the character isn't featured more. His scenes with Ralph Ramirez, also excellent as Cmdr. William Harbison, are more memorable than they might have been with lesser talents.
The cast and crew keep the audience rapt and entertained as the plot unveils parallel love stories between Nellie and Emile and Joseph and Liat, who is Bloody Mary's daughter. Even those who have seen "South Pacific" many times will be caught up in the conflict between Nellie and Joseph's desires and their ingrained racism.
Costuming and makeup deserve mention, for Camala Pitts and Dorinda Quailes hit this one out of the park. Nellie and the other nurses are transformed into 1940s beauties. Roberson's costuming throughout the show is particularly impressive, as it involves several quick changes and hairstyles, further complicated by the wetting of Nellie's hair onstage during the song "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair." Their costume choices for Sanders also lend an element of believability to the charming sophistication of Emile's character.
"South Pacific" is the kind of show that can easily grind to a halt during many set changes challenging even the most adept stage managers. But Stage Manager Henry Brewster and Assistant Stage Manager Jason Nettle, who also acts in the play, along with the rest of the cast and crew, pull it off so seamlessly that there's nary a pause beyond a few seconds as they transform the entire stage time and again.
The evening's dinner fare, designed to correspond with the theme of the play, adds to the experience. Though the menu changes nightly, the imaginative, bold and delectable Spam and Napa cabbage eggroll that was served on Oct. 25 must be mentioned. There aren't many chefs daring enough to offer Spam on the menu of a fine dining establishment, and Chef DeJuan Roy must be praised for doing it so well.
The cast and crew of "South Pacific" and the culinary and wait staff conspire to craft an unforgettable experience that is both delightful and decadent. This show is a must-watch.