Marriott's Production of SOUTH PACIFIC Surpasses All Expectations

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REVIEWED BY: RUSSELL GOELTENBODT

The Marriott Lincolnshire Theater’s 2013 season started off on a successful note with “Now and Forever, The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Now continuing with their impassible momentum, Marriott Lincolnshire presents “South Pacific”.  Featuring music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and a book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan, the original 1949 Broadway production won ten Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Musical Revival in 2008.

I will have to say hands down this production of “South Pacific” is the BEST production that I have seen at this wonderful venue to date. Marriott Lincolnshire Theater and Jeff Award winner, Executive Producer; Terry James who is known for many excellent productions at Marriott, has produced a hit.  The excellent direction, musical talent, choreography, stage design are all masterfully combined to create this masterpiece of enjoyable musical theater.

Due to the size of “South Pacific”, this classic is typically brought to a large theater stage. However, Marriott Lincolnshire Executive Producer; Terry James, and Director; David Bell  proved that this monumental production is possible, and can be as successful in the round intimate theater stage. This production of “South Pacific” is incredibly beautiful in every sense of the word. From the time I walked into the theater, I was captivated by the recreation of a south Pacific tropical paradise. The palm trees and the lighting creating this illusion were fabulous and beautiful. Kudos to the entire Artistic team led by Lead Artistic Director Andy Hite and Artistic Director; Aaron Thielen. The design team includes: Set Design by Tom Ryan, Costume Design; by Nancy Missimi, Lighting Design; by Diane Ferry Williams, Sound Design; by Bob Gilmartin and Props Design; by Sally Weiss and Music Direction by Ryan T. Nelson, with Patti Garwood conducting the Marriott Theatre Orchestra. This entire team pooled their talents to produce and create this masterpiece.

The musical “South Pacific is based on James Michener’s book “Tales of the South Pacific”. When his book was first written, it was a collection of short stories, not a novel or a drama.  Therefore, there was no dialogue.   Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein had to abandon their plan to base their musical on a single story based on Michener’s book.  Rather, in order to create the musical, Oscar Hammerstein enlisted the help of collaborator and director; Joshua Logan to blend four stories into a complex narrative to make the story flow smoothly. Their efforts would make the audience assume that the book was written that way. Their combined effort earned a Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1949, along with James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction earned the previous year.

The story of “South Pacific” centers on a group of American sailors and Navy nurses stationed in the South Pacific during

World War II. The musical tells the sweeping romantic story of two couples, U.S. nurse Nellie Forbush; (played by Elizabeth Lanza), who befriends and quickly falls for Emile de Becque; (played by Stephen Buntrock), a French plantation owner; and Lt. Joe Cable; (played by Ben Jacoby), who finds himself in a passionate affair with Liat; (played by Emily Morales), the young daughter of Bloody Mary; (played by Bethany Thomas), the local grass-skirt peddler. As the war against Japan escalates, reality sets in for both Forbush and Cable, who struggle to reconcile their unconventional love affairs with their long-held prejudices and insecurities. All of these talented actors gave superb performances. Stephen Buntrock was convincing as the French plantation owner looking for the love of the southern nurse to be a mother for his two children. Stephen sang “Some Enchanted Evening” and a beautiful version of my favorite “This Nearly Was Mine”. Elizabeth Lanza’s character of Nurse Nellie depicted a simple southern belle who is optimistic that she will find love, sang beautiful versions of “A Wonderful Guy”, “A Cockeyed Optimist”’ and “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair”. Elizabeth’s soprano voice flowed easily, and beautifully.  Bethany Thomas as Bloody Mary brought down the house singing “Bali Hai” and “Happy Talk”. Bethany also provided comic relief portraying the Island business woman looking to make as much as she can off the American Soldiers. Easy on the eyes Ben Jacoby as Lt Cable, (who was just seen at Marriott’s “Now and Forever, The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber”), played the soldier who found love with Bloody Mary’s daughter, Liat and sang a passionate “Younger Than Springtime”. Last but not least, I have to mention Dylan Lainez and Alexis Navarrete Aponte, who played Emile’s children. These two young people definitely have a future in theater. Their stage presence, projection, and musical ability are really fantastic, not to mention their French singing ability.

The cast of “South Pacific” also includes, Stef Tovar as “Luther Billis” played the disrespectful sailor, seabee that sang an exciting “There’s Nothing Like a Dame”.  Additional ensemble members were Jerry Galante as “Stewpot”, Stephen Schellhardt as “Professor”, Dev Kennedy as “Captain George Brackett”, and Robert Hunt as “Commander Harbison”.  With Audrey Billings  Dara Cameron, Aaron Conklin, Jameson Cooper, Courtney Crouse, Jim DeSelm, Jon Harrison, Patrick Martin, Alexandra Palkovic, Amanda Tanguay and Travis Taylor.  This very talented cast gave there all with their singing and dancing adding great support to the lead performers and the show.

Not to minimize the excellence of this show, or the extreme talent of the cast and the artistic team, I have to once again mention my concerns with audience obstruction from stage construction and blocking.  In seeing many productions at Marriott Lincolnshire, this issue continuously repeats itself. I do know that staging a show in the round is no easy task, and the directors did manage to accommodate quite well through most of “South Pacific”. This issue was especially apparent, where Bloody Mary is singing Bali Hai. Bloody Mary is positioned by a palm tree, which most probably blocked the view of the audience seated behind her.  I mention this because I have been at other Marriott Lincolnshire productions with far less scenery where the view is sometimes obstructed. My seat for this performance, located across from the orchestra, was perfect. However, it made me wonder if the seats directly under the orchestra had the same unobstructed view for some of the more intimate scenes. The production numbers appear to be visible where the entire audience has a clear view of the activity on stage.  However, I am not so certain with some of the more intimate scenes where the actors were placed near the elaborate palm trees or on the veranda. The directors need to make audience visibility a priority when staging the shows at Marriott Lincolnshire. Perhaps the directors should position themselves at various places in the house while blocking scenes to see if there is a solution or a better option to this problem. The sets are fabulous and create a wonderful aesthetic illusion for the production. However, the elaborate set should not be traded for audience visibility. It is an incredible shame if the entire audience is not able to enjoy a wonderful show without straining their necks to have an adequate view of all of the on-stage activity without being blocked by actors or other scenery.  That being said, my comments should not reflect on this production’s excellence. But again, should be noted for future performances at Marriott Lincolnshire.

“South Pacific” is a beautiful production that I strongly recommend. Even though, some revivals may be daunting. The classic “South Pacific” at Marriott Lincolnshire Theater is a winner that surpasses all of their shows

South Pacific runs through June 2, 2013 at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.  The performance schedule is Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 4:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.  Ticket prices range from $40 to $48, excluding tax and handling fees.  Students 17 and under and senior citizen 62 and older receive $5.00 off a full price theatre ticket for Wednesday Matinee, Saturday Matinee, Sunday Matinee and Sunday Afternoon performances.  On Wednesday and Thursday evenings a limited number of Dinner and Theatre tickets are available for only $55.00 per person. For Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening dinner reservations in The King’s Wharf or Fairfield Inn, please call847-634-0100. Free parking is available at all performances. To reserve tickets, please call the Marriott Theatre Box Office at 847.634.0200. Visit www.MarriottTheatre.com for more information.

For calendar information please visit www.TheatreInChicago.com