Stellar lead performances by Katie Moya and Michael Scott Harris are among the best reasons to catch Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre’s tuneful revival of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s 1949 musical dramedy classic South Pacific.

 With not one but two timeless love stories (book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan, from James A. Michener’s Pulitzer-prize winning Tales Of The South Pacific),  hummable melodies and astute lyrics, a richly exotic setting, an eventful WWII time frame, delightful bits of comic relief, and perhaps most importantly, a far ahead-of-its-time examination of the racial prejudices so deeply ingrained in mid-20th Century America, South Pacific stands tall amongst the R&H oeuvre.

To begin with, it dares to open, not with the show girls and chorus boys of musical comedies before it, but with an extended dialog-and-song sequence between U.S. Navy Ensign Nellie Forbush (Moya) and expatriate French planter Emile de Becque (Harris) as they fall in love over “A Cockeyed Optimist,” “Twin Soliloquies,” and “Some Enchanted Evening.”

It’s only then, a good twenty minutes into South Pacific, that the show’s male chorus makes its first entrance, a stageful of sailors singing the praises of “Bloody Mary” and women in general in “There Is Nothing Like A Dame,” a pair of bona fide showstoppers, after which we’re back in dramatic territory with the Navy’s request that de Becque help them on a daring secret mission that could easily cost him his life.

And speaking of daring, how many musicals’ last twenty-plus minutes get transformed into an edge-of-your-seat straight play with only a some instrumental underscoring and couple of very brief reprises?

When you talk about revolutionary Broadway shows, South Pacific tops the list, and with director Chuck Ketter in charge, its Candlelight Pavilion revival delivers the goods.

Not only does Ketter insert clever comedic bits throughout the show (Emile’s young son Jerome’s inability to master the jump rope, Nellie’s instant if temporary dislike of the cognac she’s offered), so does Janet Renslow in her lively choreography (take for instance the sailors’ attempts to mimic sexy native girls in “Bali Hai”).

Add to that Moya and Harris’ sensational lead performances, some fine supporting turns, and an all-around terrific ensemble, and Candlelight’s South Pacific comes up a winner.

Moya’s mix of Little Rock girl-next-door prettiness, likability, and charm renders her instantly appealing, her pitch-perfect Broadway mezzo makes “A Cockeyed Optimist,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” and “I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy” sound fresh and new, and when Nellie finds herself in crisis mode, Moya’s acting chops are more than up to the challenge.

Harris’s star turn in Candlelight’s Jekyll & Hyde makes him an ideal choice to bring the almost equally complex Emile to powerful life, imbuing R&H classics like “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine” with a baritone to match the best of them, and his scenes with Moya’s Nellie crackle with opposites-attract romantic sparks.

Tall, handsome, and with an exquisite tenor to match, Shane Litchfield shines as young Lieutenant Joe Cable, who discovers love with a Polynesian beauty (and his own “carefully taught” racism in the bargain), and dance captain Jennavie Ochoa’s Liat is loveliness and grace personified as the object of his then forbidden love.

Candida Celaya is a ball of Tonkanese fire as Bloody Mary (and sings a gorgeous “Bali Hai”), Marc Montminy provides comic relief as wily Luther Billis (especially in “Honey Bun” drag), and Cypress Flores (Jerome), Hailey Garibay (Ngana), Matthew Blake Johnson (Professor, Quale), John Nisbet (Captain Brackett), Cesare G. Quintero (Henry, Shore Policemen), Daniel Reyes (Stewpot), and Peter Schulz (Commander Harbison) create some colorful cameos along the way.

 Johnson, Quintero, and Reyes are joined by Fabio Antonio, Jalon Matthews, Andreas Pantazis, and Christian Pineda in a male ensemble who not only dance and harmonize quite splendidly, they actually look like they could be WWII Seabees, though I can’t help wishing, given South Pacific’s specific focus on race, that Candlelight made it clear, as did the 2008 Broadway revival, that WWII sailors still served in a racially segregated Navy.

Sarah Ayotte (Dinah), Māta Barr, Elizabeth Campbell, and Carolyn Lupin make for a quartet of feisty, vivacious Navy nurses while providing harmonious backup vocals, both when Nelly confesses her love for “wonderful guy” Emile and when she later vows to wash him out of her hair.

Vocal performances benefit from Douglas Austin’s expert musical direction. Scenic designer Ketter’s vibrantly-hued tropical set looks particularly inviting under Jonathan Daroca’s vibrant lighting, installed by StretLite LLC. Uncredited costumes are just right too, though mike glitches marred an otherwise fine mix of amplified vocals and prerecorded instrumentals.

Caleb Shiba is stage manager.

South Pacific may be heading towards its seventieth birthday, but you’d hardly know it from this younger-than-springtime revival, and with Katie Moya and Michael Scott Harris as its luminous stars, audiences are guaranteed an enchanted evening (or weekend matinee) by Candlelight.

follow on twitter small

Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.

–Steven Stanley
August 13, 2015
Photos: Demetrios Katsantonis


Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.