‘South Pacific’ provides great entertainment

Published 9:20 am Thursday, July 16, 2015

Stage Right by Peggy Bennett

I had the great privilege of being invited to write a review for Albert Lea Community Theatre’s newest production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.” I was primed with anticipation to attend the dress rehearsal on Tuesday evening and, I’d have to say, I was definitely not disappointed!

Peggy Bennett

Peggy Bennett

As I walked into the theater, the place was buzzing with pre-play jitters and excitement — stagehands working on lighting and props, musicians practicing and actors milling about. It was evident that director Steven Kinney and his production staff run a tight and well-run ship. (Pun intended!)

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The story line of this musical is based on James A. Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 book, “Tales of the South Pacific.” The plot revolves around an American nurse stationed on a South Pacific island during World War II, who falls in love with a middle-aged French plantation owner, but struggles with her prejudices in accepting his mixed-race children. A secondary romance between a U.S. lieutenant and a young Polynesian woman echoes the struggle with racial prejudice that is openly explored throughout this musical.

As the lights dimmed and the stage lit, I was inexplicably drawn onto a World War II South Pacific island. The set designers did a good job providing enough palm trees and old relics to set the stage without overdoing the theme. The props were also well designed to move about quickly for scene changes.

Rebecca Griffin, who plays Ensign Nellie Forbush, a Navy nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas, and Gordy Handeland, who portrays Emile de Becque, the French planter, seem to be experienced actors who were very comfortable in their roles. Their strong singing voices for the many iconic songs were “icing on the cake” for their well-played parts.

The other romantic couple in this production, Lt. Joseph Cable, played by Aspen Gau, and the young Polynesian girl, Liat (played by Elisa Staat), also conducted well-played parts. I felt both of them did an exceptional job portraying two young lovers, and Gau was able to render his inner battles with prejudice for the audience very well.

I’d have to say that my two favorite characters in this play were Bloody Mary, played by Julie Courrier, and Luther Billis, portrayed by Jason Howland. I don’t know who else could pull off the colorful and raucous island woman like Courrier did, with her great accent and infectious boisterousness. She was magnificent! As for Jason Howland’s Billis, the gruff and entrepreneurial Seabee — he about had me rolling in the aisles laughing. Well done!

The rest of the actors in this play did excellent work as well. Glen Parsons and Gary Schindler did a good job of playing the parts of the military leaders, and young Octavia Staat and Michael Minear did a super job portraying Emile’s children with a stage presence the belies their young ages.

The nurses and sailors/Marines all acted and sang energetically and brought a real richness to the production, as did the other supporting characters. I’d like to give a special shoutout to Nick Walther, who is one of my former first-graders (all grown up now!) and Garret Larson who, from what I understand, has his debut in theater with this play. It’s nice to see young people get involved in community activities like this, and both did a great job.

Kudos to the musicians for the wonderful music, the production crew for a great set and the many talented actors and singers. I know there was a lot of time and hard work behind what I saw in this performance tonight. I want to thank each and every one of those involved for not only taking part in something they clearly enjoy, but also for contributing to our community and allowing us wonderful entertainment options like this.

Congratulations to director Steven Kinney and all involved for a wonderful show. Get your tickets soon, everyone.  I predict “South Pacific” is going to be a sellout!


Peggy Bennett is an Albert Lea resident.