Arena Wraps Season With a Bang
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A community theater can’t go wrong with a season-closing show like South Pacific, as Arena Dinner Theatre has proven. Already sold out before opening night, the production lives up to its reputation.
The 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical features gorgeous music, a winning heroine, a suave leading man, a pair of star-crossed young lovers, and an assortment of hilarious supporting characters. It also made waves in the mid-20th century for taking a strong stand against racial prejudice.
Set in the New Hebrides Islands east of Australia (now known as Vanuatu) during World War II, the musical centers around Nellie Forbush (Leah Wedler), a spunky Navy nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas, who has recently met wealthy French plantation owner Emile de Beque (Aaron Mann). Their romance has blossomed quickly – too quickly for them to really get to know each other. She later learns that he has two children by a Polynesian woman. In 1949, this is particularly scandalous.
Meanwhile, Lt. Joe Cable (Jordan Gameon) also falls quickly in love – with a young Tonkinese woman, Liat (Amber Rudolph). Both Forbush and Cable must confront their prejudices head on and decide what is really important to them, especially when Cable and de Beque go on a dangerous spy mission they know they may not come back from.
Wedler and Mann have fantastic onstage chemistry together and excellent singing voices, as does Gameon, who sang some beautiful high notes. Wedler also has the chance to show off her dancing skills during the crowd-pleasing second act number “Honey Bun.” That song also showcases the comedic chops of Brock Ireland, who plays the loud-mouthed Luther Billis.
Maggie Hunter plays Bloody Mary, the entrepreneurial mother of Liat. Hunter is dynamic in her role, singing one of the show’s most famous songs, “Bali Ha’i” and the more lighthearted “Happy Talk.” The latter song includes some beautiful choreography by Kandi Magner and performed gracefully by Rudolph.
Speaking of choreography, the dancing in “There Is Nothing Like a Dame” is so energetic and fun that one of the dancers on opening night was actually kicked in the head (he was fine). The men’s chorus is strong, both vocally and physically, and Tyler Hanford (Stewpot) and Freddy Fuelling (Abner) were particular standouts.
Sadly, the women’s chorus in South Pacific has little to do but jog across the stage in shorts, although they do get to back up Nellie in “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy.” Erin Bean (Dinah) does have a funny bit when she tries to distract de Beque while Nellie hides in the shower.
The set, designed by Therrin Eber, features a real working onstage shower, and the costumes, designed by Jill Bixler, give each character their own personality.
Goeglein’s catered dinner includes dinner rolls and butter, broccoli crunch salad, pork cutlet with caper sauce, scalloped potatoes, Caribbean blend vegetables, and lemon cake.