Love and Prejudice

"You made me love you," croons a girl singer during the big band-heavy preshow music for South Pacific, and this sentiment pervades much of the drama in Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1949 musical about love, loss, patriotism, and loyalty on two islands in the South Pacific during World War II. The conflict stems from two romantic relationships that are both challenged by interracial ties, an American taboo. On this island paradise, love is not an easy thing. The Heights Players's production of South Pacific certainly celebrates the energy and vitality of its characters and the sumptuousness of its score, but it falls short of probing the central relationships to a satisfying end. A winner of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and the Tony for best musical, South Pacific is one of the best-loved and oft-revived musicals. If you missed your local high school's revival, here is a brief outline of the plot. Ensign Nellie Forbush, a nurse stationed in the South Pacific, becomes smitten with a much older Frenchman, Emile DeBecque, who lives on the island. They fall in love despite differences in age and upbringing (Nellie is fresh out of Little Rock, Ark., while Emile is full of European sophistication). But their budding romance is challenged when Nellie learns of Emile's four mixed-race children, whom he fathered with his late Polynesian wife. Nellie recoils from Emile and must decide whether she will bravely bridge the cultural divide.

Meanwhile, Lt. Joe Cable arrives on the island with orders to spy on the nearby Japanese. His plan is deterred, however, by his love affair with Liat, a young girl on the nearby island of Bali Ha'i. He must examine his own racial prejudices as he considers pursuing a relationship with her, ultimately deciding that he cannot. He enlists the help of the lovelorn Emile, who is familiar with the territory, to join him on his dangerous spy mission.

South Pacific possesses one of the most melodic and soaring show scores ever composed, with classics like "Some Enchanting Evening," "There is Nothin' Like a Dame," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair," "A Wonderful Guy," "Younger Than Springtime," and "This Nearly Was Mine" packed in from start to finish. Noticeably missing from this production are the lush orchestrations, with a keyboard and minimal percussion providing only sparse and patchy accompaniment.

Tina Throckmorton makes a spunky and likable Nellie, with a bright smile to match her bright, clear voice. Her chemistry with Thomas Urciuoli's Emile, however, fails to ring true. The same can be said for the relationship between Cable (a wooden Constantine Polites) and Liat (a radiant Makie Armstrong).

In its time, South Pacific was progressive and controversial with its theme of interracial love, but the relationships here do not bear out the show's import. Scenes between Nellie and Emile feel rushed, with neither of them seeming to register the weighty choices they are facing.

The evening's strongest performances belong to its supporting players, with standout comic turns by Matthew Woods as the lovably irreverent Luther Billis and Ed Healy as the deliciously dictatorial Captain Brackett. The male ensemble of Seabees also makes a powerful impression, with a strong sound and constant boisterous energy, often carried forth by Chazmond J. Peacock's irrepressible Stewpot.

Faced with a musical of huge proportions, director Thomas N. Tyler has done an admirable job of transporting the action to a very small stage. He has able assistance from Sonia Hernandez's delightful choreography, Fabio Taliercio's brilliant and effective light design, and Gerry Newman's functional set. (And yes, Nellie actually does wash her hair onstage, like Mary Martin in the original production.)

If this South Pacific fails to live up to the emotional weight of its material (especially in its unsatisfying portrayal of the romantic relationships), it still manages to deliver its original message

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