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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Porthouse’s ‘South Pacific’ ‘stunning’

6/20/2013 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

Production features strong acting, singing

Greg Violand (Emile De Becque) and Kayce Cummings (Nellie Forbush) share a scene in Porthouse Theatre’s production of “South Pacific.”
Photo courtesy of Porthouse Theatre
CUYAHOGA FALLS — “South Pacific” continues to be one of America’s great stories and is now playing at Porthouse Theatre through June 29.

The show opened more than 50 years ago on Broadway and has had only one Broadway revival. The play was based on James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize novel “Tales of the South Pacific.” Richard Rodgers (music), Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics and book) and Joshua Logan (book) brought to the stage Michener’s stories of life among the American military in the South Pacific during World War II.

Until Rodgers and Hammerstein, playwrights and composers wrote musical comedies. “South Pacific” is a serious play with music. Of course, the play has comedic moments, but in “South Pacific” everything doesn’t end well. One major character is killed and other characters are forced to deal with their prejudices and their fears.

“South Pacific” is a difficult show to perform because of the emotional toll it takes on its cast. 

The original production was cast before most of the songs were written. Ezio Pinza, an opera star, was cast as Emile De Becque. Mary Martin, who had a Broadway and popular music career, was cast as Nellie Forbush. The music was written to complement the talents of each, and for that reason, in most productions these characters don’t sing duets. However, in the version now playing at Porthouse, Emile and Nellie have duets.

In the Porthouse production, Kayce Cummings is a perfect Nellie. She is pretty and, yet, business-like. She has a stunning voice that’s perfect for stage musicals. At Porthouse, she has become an audience favorite. She played Maria in “The Sound of Music” last season, and in other summers she played Annie in “Annie Get Your Gun” and Marian in “The Music Man.”

Greg Violand creates a winning Emile who pursues Nellie with the intention of marrying her. Violand brings his personal maturity to the story as the older man in love with a much younger woman. Yet, when he sings, he persuades Nellie and most of the women in the audience.

Jake Wood as the youthful Lt. Joseph Cable fights personal demons and the biggest demon of all — the war. Wood is the perfect youthful romantic lead. He has a strong, well-trained voice. He acts well and reveals his thought process to the audience. Should he leave the South Pacific and return to Philadelphia or should he stay in the island paradise as Nellie wants to do?

The relationship between Nellie and Joseph is interesting. These two terribly attractive people are friends and discuss their problems with each other. In most shows, these characters would have a same-sex confidant.

Colleen Longshaw (Bloody Mary) has a strong, beautiful voice that makes “Bali Ha’i” a seductive interpretation of the earthly delights awaiting anyone on that island paradise.

This production has a chorus of about 10 sailors, who sing “There Is Nothing Like a Dame.”

Tim Welsh makes Luther Billis a clown with a soft, protective heart. Welch, surprisingly, sings well and dances with some ease. 

The accompaniment for the production is provided by Jonathan Swoboda and Jennifer Korecky on pianos on an upper platform. They also provide the necessary instruments for the show. They truly do accompany, never overpowering or making their roles timid.

Choreographer MaryAnn Black scored large, expansive dances for the male chorus and more lady-like dances for the nurses. Black is handicapped by the small playing area at Porthouse, yet she filled the area with vigorous dances that represent the spirit and the war setting of “South Pacific.”

Scenic designer Ben Needham created a functional set that fits the small Porthouse stage. He kept the scene changes to a minimum, and those changes were made quickly. Needham provided plenty of room for the large cast and the big dance numbers.

Costume designer S.Q. Campbell had a difficult assignment. She had to design military uniforms, party clothes and casual wear for the cast. Campbell and her staff built costumes that worked well for the big dance numbers and for quiet intimate scenes.

Director Terri Kent scored a direct hit with this smashing production of “South Pacific.” Kent’s fingerprints are on every scene. She made the production intelligent and yet did not shy away from the strong emotions these characters must feel.

This is a stunning production that is appropriate for everyone in the family (get a babysitter for the little ones).

For ticket information, call 330-672-3884.

 

David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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