“South Pacific” – Hale Centre Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ March 11, 2013


Hale Centre Theatre
Gilbert, AZ

There are many weak local community theaters but one consistently distinguishes itself, Gilbert’s Hale Centre Theatre.  I have yet to be seriously disappointed at the Hale Centre and the current production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 trend-setting “South Pacific” is a winning staging of the classic show.

Rodgers and Hammerstein were well ahead of Broadway when they introduced the theme of racial intolerance into their musical.  The theme dominates most of the characters and their lives as American World War II soldiers and nurses mix with natives on a small Pacific island where French planter, Emile, escaped his home when he killed a man.

Little Rock nurse, Nellie, goes to a party given by Emile and falls for him.  When introduced to his two young children, Jerome and Ngana, Nellie struggles to accept them because of their now dead Polynesian mother.  The budding romance is further complicated by Lt. Joseph Cable’s infatuation with native Bloody Mary’s charming Tonkinese daughter, Liat.

Joe’s killed in an incident that spares Emile.  Nellie will settle down with Emile and his children as the curtain descends.  It’s touching and the racial acceptance shocked audiences but the message of tolerance and acceptance is surrounded by a lush score filled with familiar hits, wonderful romances, and inspirational character changes.

The Hale Centre production is blessed with strong singing actors who tell this story believably, sing the familiar songs gloriously, and make the timeless tale enlightening.

The only blemish in this otherwise stellar production is the lack of romantic chemistry between the leads, Emily Evans well sung and perky Nellie and Mark Kleinman’s too-old and not-very-French Emile.  There’s nothing suggesting that this couple is destined to a long romantic life.  The same problem exists between Tedd Glazebrook’s Joe and Anissa Griego’s Liat who also aren’t convincing as passionate lovers.

The comic relief characters, Melissa VanSlyke’s Bloody Mary and Gary Caswell’s rough-and-tough Luther Billis are funny.  VanSlyke delivers an impressive “Bali Ha’i” while Caswell cavorts raucously in “Honey Bun.”

Allan Dietlein’s direction isn’t bad but he allows the already slow show to plod when a generous shot of adrenalin is needed.  The recorded music, like the staging, needs swifter tempos.  Hale Centre’s “South Pacific” continues through March 30.  For tickets, call the Hale Centre Theatre box office at 480-497-1181 or order tickets online at www.haletheatrearizona.com.

Grade: B

While I hate to admit it, Theater Critics make mistakes.  At the end of my “Memphis” review last week, I said that the 2013/14 ASU Gammage season would be announced on March 13.  The date is actually Monday, March 18 beginning at 7:30 at ASU Gammage.  Sorry.