A combination of excitement and apprehension builds as the cast of Music Booster’s production of “South Pacific” nears.
Staging a musical is a complicated and multi-faceted task that requires an intense commitment from all of its participants and most often results in a delightful two and a half hour respite from the cares of the world for its audience. The trio of music, characterization of plot, and choreography sets the musical apart from its twin, the pure theater piece or the play. Each holds its particular place in the domain of performance art. The musical just happens to be what Music Boosters specializes in and is rather good at doing as can abe attested to by the thousands of past attendees who have come away from our shows in various states of amazement, charm, and elation. And the cast of the current production of South Pacific intends to do just that this June.
As promised in last week’s installment of this series on “South Pacific,” I will give a brief summary of the plot of the show for those of you who may not be familiar with it. The setting is an island in the South Pacific during World War II. There is an American naval installation on the island and the main female lead, Nellie Forbush is a naïve young nurse who happens to fall in love with a mysterious Frenchman, an expatriate and plantation owner, Emile de Becque. Unbeknownst to Nellie, Emile has two mixed-race children whom he had fathered with a Polynesian woman. This will later present a serious problem for Nellie who is from the American South.
The Navy enlistees or Seabees are suffering from boredom and the lack of female companionship in that they are forbidden to engage socially with the nurses who are considered commissioned officers. The comic relief of the show, Luther Billis is obsessed with going to the island of Bali Hi to observe a Boar’s Head ceremony which he has learned about from another amusing character named “Bloody Mary,” a Tonkinese woman who hustles grass skirts”and other trinkets to tourists and sailors alike. The other enlistees tease Billis and tell him that he’s only interested in pursuing the women of this island.
Another character appears in the person of Marine Lt. Joseph Cable who is sent to the island to organize a dangerous spy mission that may help turn the tide of the war against Japan. Cable confers with his commanding officers, Capt. George Brackett and Commander Harbison who decide that Emile would be of use in their mission in that he used to live on the island they intend to go to for purposes of their spy mission. They then engage Nellie Forbush to find out more about de Becque’s past knowing that she has a romantic involvement with de Becque.
When Nellie learns something of his dark past, she decides that she has fallen for him without knowing enough about him and confides in her friends that she intends to “Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair.” However, soon after Emile arrives and invites Nellie to a party where he intends to present her to all of his friends. She realizes at this point that she’s still in love with him and agrees to go to the party. After the party, Emile declares his love for her and asks her to marry him. He speaks of his philosophy of universal freedom and confesses to her about the murder he committed while in France which had been in self-defense. Nellie accepts his proposal and concludes the scene with a joyous exclamation of her love, “ I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy.”
Lieutenant Cable is set to go on his spy mission and when the officers ask de Becque to be his guide, he refuses because he is intent on starting his new life with Nellie. Thus, the Commander has Cable go on leave until the matter can be settled. Meanwhile, Billis persuades Cable to go with him to Bali H’ai where Billis participates in the Boar’s Head ceremony. Bloody Mary introduces Cable to her beautiful daughter, Liat and he falls for her instantly. Bloody Mary leaves them alone where they subsequently consummate their love. When the other sailors’and Billis are ready to leave the island they are delayed while waiting for Cable whom they do not realize is with Liat. Bloody Mary proudly announces to them that Cable is going to be her son-in-law. In these scenes we hear the beautiful, “Younger Than Springtime” and “Bali H’ai” melodies performed.
After Emile’s party, he and Nellie declare their love for each other in reprises of “ A Wonderful Guy,” “Twin Soliloquies,” Cockeyed Optimist” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair.” He then reveals to Nellie that the two children, Jerome and Ngana where she learns of their native mother who has died. Nellie is not able to reconcile herself with this at this point and breaks off the relationship with de Becque who sadly sings of what might have been in “ Some Enchanted Evening.”
In Act II it is Thanksgiving Day and the nurses and Seabees are putting on a production of Thanksgiving Follies where they dance. An epidemic of malaria has hit Bali H’ai and in that Cable has visited there often, he’s contracted the malady and is confined to the hospital. He escapes the hospital to return to Bali H’ai in order to spend more time with Liat. There he and Liat continue to enjoy each other and Bloody Mary encourages this. She also urges them to marry, but Cable resists saying that he cannot marry a Tonkinese girl because his family would never accept it. Bloody Mary becomes furious and drags her daughter away from Cable who must now lament is love’s absence.
Back at the Thanksgiving Follies, Nellie performs a burlesque number where she dresses as a sailor and Billis performs in drag with a grass skirt, coconut shell bra, and blond wig. After the show, Nellie runs into Emile who compliments her performance and asks her to reconsider her feelings. She tells him that she cannot come to terms with the fact of his interracial children.
Emile then asks both Cable and Nellie why they retain such prejudice and Cable answers in a song, “ You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” which explains how such thoughts are ingrained in one’s upbringing. Cable is very conflicted about all this however, and vows that if he survives the war, he’ll not return to the U.S. Emile then sadly reflects on all this in the song, “This Nearly Was Mine.”
Feeling depressed and hopeless, Emile decides to go on the mission for which the officers had previously requested his help. The spy mission begins with lots of support from the air, but Billis has stowed away on one of the aircraft and inadvertently falls out. When they realize he’s landed in the ocean, a massive rescue effort ensues. This rescue effort creates a diversion unbeknownst to the operation which allows Emile and Cable to get to the island undetected. They are then able to detect Japanese ship movements in what is called the Slot and report on them. American ships are able to move on the Japanese ships and destroy them. In the process, the Japanese strafe the American ships and in this scene, Cable is killed while Emile survives.
After this, Nellie learns of Cable’s death, but at that point Emile is missing. She begins to regret her foolish rejection of Emile’s children. Bloody Mary and Liat come to Nellie to inquire after Cable’s whereabouts and Nellie informs them. She then comforts Liat who has refused to marry anyone but Cable. It has become apparent that Emile and Cable’s espionage mission has made it possible for a major offensive to be launched; termed Operation Alligator, the sailors and Billis head off to battle.
Nellie remains on the island spending time with Emile’s children whom she has come to love. The children teach her to sing a French song, “Dites-Moi” during which Emile suddenly returns and his voice is heard joining theirs. He soon learns that Nellie has overcome her bias and they happily sing together a reprise of the song ending the show in romantic bliss.
Thus ends a well-crafted plot interspersed with infatuation, romance, drama, despair and elation; all elements of an engaging performance that enchants the ears as well as warms the heart.
“South Pacific” in Pagosa premieres June 24 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium. Additional performances are Saturday, June 25 at 7, Sunday, June 26, at 2 p.m. and again on June 30, July 1 and 2, all at 7 p.m.