Going to Marriott’s Theatre’s, “South Pacific,” to enjoy a timeless, classic love story amidst Rodgers and Hammerstein’s fabulous music is perfectly legitimate.
But leaving with only the simple thought of shampooing an irksome someone out of one’s life is to do this production a gross injustice.
The impeccable casting of Elizabeth Lanza as Ensign Nellie Forbush and Stephen R. Buntrock as bohemian Frenchman Emile de Becque on an island during World War II brings this “South Pacific” out of James Michener’s pages, away from any big stage iteration and drops it square into the laps of Lincolnshire’s patrons here and now.
That’s important, because the real takeaway from this show must be its unabashed look at racial intolerance that must leave its audience changed—groundbreaking in 1949 when the show was first produced on Broadway, and equally relevant today.
To this 21st century audience, Lanza masterfully moves her 1940s Nellie from adorable to loathsome and, ultimately, heroic in her resolve to undo her racism “which was carefully taught” growing up in Little Rock, Ark. Buntrock is just as captivating as the middle-aged Emile looking for love to share his unconventional island life.
The subplot of Marine Lt. Joseph Cable (Ben Jacoby) falling in love with young, Tonkinese Liat (Emily Morales), further explores the key theme with Cable’s fears of what social consequences await him if he were to marry his Asian love. A full “South Pacific” synopsis and history may be found HERE.
Director David H. Bell does excellent work pacing his cast through this long show that must set a musical-theater record for number of reprises. Fortunately, with this company, the audience doesn’t mind.
Lanza and Buntrock provide astonishing moments with flawless vocals on their signature songs, “A Cockeyed Optimist” and “Some Enchanted Evening.” And nothing is lost when their talented ensemble joins in the fun.
This songbook is an aficionado’s playlist, including, among others, a mesmerizing “Bali Ha’I” and cheery “Happy Talk” (sung by Bethany Thomas’ Bloody Mary) and a splendid “There’s Nothing Like a Dame,” featuring the fabulous harmonies of Jerry Galante, Stephen Schellhardt, Jameson Cooper, Courtney Crouse, Jim DeSelm, Jon Harrison, Travis Taylor and Aaron Conklin.
Music director Ryan T. Nelson and choreographer Matt Raftery are at the top of their games showing off this 17-time Tony Award-winning show, including the plaudits for Best Musical in 1949 and Best Musical Revival in 2008. Stef Tovar is deserving of Jeff consideration as an incredibly genuine Luther Billis.
In all, there may not be a better place to escape Chicagoland’s spring rains than the Shangri-La of Marriott’s “South Pacific.”
“South Pacific” runs through June 2. Performances are Wednesdays at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Ticket prices range from $40-48, with discounts available for seniors and students. Dinner-theater packages are also available Parking is free. Tickets are available at the Marriott Theatre Box Office, by calling 847-634-0200 or on the Marriott Theatre’s website.
Barry Reszel is a Libertyville-based writer, at-home dad and executive director of the not-for-profit entertainment company Liberty Town Productions.