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Engeman tops off season with 'South Pacific'

Impressive acting, singing and directing, together with music and costumes make this a winner

Kim Carson as Nellie Forbush and Rob Gallagher as Emile De Becque in the Engeman Theater’s production of ‘South Pacific.’ Photo from the Engeman Theater

May 28, 2013 | 02:13 PM
The Engeman Theater in Northport topped off their current theater season with the World War II-based romantic musical "South Pacific."

Your scribe cannot resist the need to point out some, admittedly minor, discrepancies in the "book," which was written by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan for the stage.

We are not referring here to the 1947 book by James Michener ("Tales of the South Pacific") on which this great musical was based. Michener's efforts were about a backwater, isolated Pacific island peopled by bored, underworked sailors and Navy Seabees (Construction Battalion). To keep themselves from the effects of ennui, lack of activity — even war — they take to amusement in the form of building elaborate shower baths, primitive barbershops and hand laundries. All of this is suffused with the one thing that drives them to engage in the above is, in their own words, "What ain't we got?/We ain't got dames!"

However, in Act II of the stage production, a radio message intercept reveals that the Japanese are massing on Bougainville and Choiseul in order to attack Cape Esperance, indicating that their fictional island is really in the midst of one of the hottest combat zones in the Pacific, the Solomon Islands. The conclusion? To borrow a line from "The King and I": "is a puzzlement."

Now then, to the current play in Northport. Igor Goldin directed it with the sure and certain skill of his previous efforts. Blocking and interpretation were flawless, and masterfully integrated with choreography and lighting — the last two handled with innate craftsmanship of Antoniette DiPietropolo and Cory Pattak, respectively.

Costuming by Amy Pedigo-Otto was done well. Some readers may recall that your scribe is UC (that's Uniform Correct) and is therefore compelled to report that the exactly uniformed Navy nurses came out in the end of Act II clad as Army nurses — another minuscule puzzlement.

Music — put it this way, the U.S. Army Special Forces have as one of their missions, force multiplier. That means that a 12-man team can make the enemy think he is facing a regiment. James Olmstead on keyboard, directing Erik K. Johnston on second keyboard, Joe Boardman on trumpet, Mark Gatz on reeds, Frank Cannon on drums and Marni Harris on violin did all of the multiplying. A 20-piece Broadway pit band was never necessary.

The story line hinges on Emile De Becque played by Rob Gallagher. He is a successful planter living with his two children born of his late native wife. He is also on the run from French authorities for having killed a man back in France.

U.S. Navy Nurse Nellie Forbush (Kim Carson) reluctantly falls for him and vice versa. Their signature song is "Some Enchanted Evening," reprised several times. Both his far-ranging tenor and her soprano meld charmingly in the duet and the solo.

Most impressive was the range of Gallagher's tenor. When he began to sing, your scribe thought him a baritone but no baritone could reach the lyric level he exhibited in the numbers. Discussing this with the theatrically astute Ellen Olafsson, aprčs show, confirmed your scribe's judgment. Besides this, his maintenance of a French accent was juste.

Amy Jo Phillips was the savvy, fast dealing Bloody Mary. Her plaintive "Bali Ha'i" was as beautiful as her "Happy Talk" was snappily titillating. Matt Wood was Luther Billis, the crafty "leader" of all the disaffected mariners. Prescinding his attitude toward officers which would have rated him a Captain's Mast or even a court martial, he joins in with the best known ensemble number, "There is Nothing Like a Dame" and the de rigueur mimic with grass skirt and coconut halves. Wood is a sharp actor, strong and aggressive in the nonsinging dimension.

Peter Carrier is Lieutenant Cable U.S. Marine Corps who falls in love with Liat (Hsin-Yu Liao). Their "Younger Than Springtime" was both warm and lyrical.

In nonsinging roles as Capt. George Brackett U.S. Navy and Commander William Harbison U.S. Navy, David McDonald and Rick Malone respectively handled these roles with aplomb and a sensible approach avoiding the pitfalls of the gruff, incompetent, loudmouth officer so often portrayed in the egalitarian tsunami that engulfed theater, movies and novels in post-World War II writing.

The male ensemble of Wood, Evan Teich, Josh Rothberg, Ben Rosenbach, Matthew Michael Urinak, Dennis Setteducati and Paul Velutis along with the females Jamila Sabares-Klemm, Diana Rose Becker, Audra Rizzo, Erin Raquel Garcia and Kate Cherichello all meshed together like the breech of a 16-inch battleship's gun — another tribute to DiPietropolo.

This season-topper was yet again another exhibition of what the Engeman can mount in its unquestionable adherence to the highest norms of professionalism.

"South Pacific" will run at the Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport through July 14. Call 261-2900 or go to www.engemantheater.com for tickets.

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