by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Jacksonville’s Alhambra Theatre & Dining has become a tropical island until December 1, as the classic and acclaimed musical “South Pacific” has arrived. Call 641-1212 for reservations.
When “South Pacific” debuted in 1949, it was a groundbreaking musical. It preceded the Civil Rights movement and boldly portrayed how damaging and painful racism could be.
The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is known for its memorable songs. They include the romantic “Some Enchanted Evening,” the mysterious “Bali Ha’i,” the humorous ” I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” the rousing “Honey Bun,” and the heart-breaking “This Nearly Was Mine.”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning World War II story by James Michener takes place on a small South Pacific island where Nellie Forbush, a US Navy nurse falls, against her better judgment, in love with a mysterious expatriate French planter, Emile de Becque. Nellie as played by ASHLIE ROGERSON, is an attractive ‘hick’ from Arkansas, who has a lot of charisma, and can sure belt out a song. Alhambra regulars may remember Ms. Roberson from ” Ring of Fire” in which she did both fine singing and fancy fiddle playing.
Newcomer CHRISTOPHER SANDERS stars as Frenchman de Becque. You can’t miss him! He is a big man, reportedly six feet, five inches tall, with a big, bold, baritone voice to match which frequently brought appreciative applause from the captivated audience. His impressive credits listed in the program include concert engagements with several symphonies, and leading roles in many major musicals.
A secondary romantic plot involves young Lieutenant Joseph Cable (ALEX MARKOWITZ) who has arrived on the island to spy on Japanese ship movements from behind enemy lines. He is befriended by local trinket seller Bloody Mary (NICOLE LEE), who sets him up with a date with her daughter Liat (REA EANG), hoping they will fall in love and marry. Liat is a beauty, and they do fall in love, in record time even for musical theatre. However, Joe views their racial differences as a seemingly insurmountable barrier to a life together.
Now, if you have never seen this show, we don’t want you to think it is all serious. There is that artful, scheming and brash sailor, Luther Billis, and his Navy buddies. Making his Alhambra debut as Billis is EDDIE MEKKA, a co-star for several years on TV’s “LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY.” Mekka’s talent comes across the footlights to tickle the audience during the Thanksgiving show on base when he dons a grass skirts, adds coconut shells for a bra, and performs the showstopper “Honey Bun.”
Meanwhile back to the romance of de Becque and Forbush, which has hit a snag when she discovers he is widowed, has two young mixed-race children, and came to this island many years ago because of a crime he committed in France. Are these insurmountable obstacles? If you don’t know the story, we won’t spoil it for you.
The Alhambra did this show in 2003, and DAVID POIRIER was the base commanding officer, Captain George Brackett. Poirier is the only returning member of that cast, and is every bit as funny as he was ten years ago.
The sets by Dave Dionne are excellent and make you feel as if you are right on that island, with palm trees and a wonderful scenic rear wall that depicts the far off island of Bali Ha’i.
The Costume Crew has created a very well dressed nurse corps, who appear in standard uniforms, but also show up in more colorful clothing when off duty, which includes vintage evening gowns and bathing suits. The naval officers and sailors are snappily dressed as well.
Kids like to watch kids on stage, and the two de Becque children are delightfully played by RACHEL RDS and CALEB LACROIX. RALPH RAMIREZ is the second in command as Commander Harbison. TIM DEE plays Henry, de Becque’s household servant
The very physically handsome sailors are: ROSS FRONTZ, CLAY SMITH, SHAIN STROFF, RENDELLE DEBOSE, CODY RUSSELL and JASON NETTLE. Those gorgeous and talented nurses include COURTNEY RUSSELL, JENNIFER AUBUCHON, OLIVIA CHERNYSHEV, AND SOPHIA ROSE MORRIS.
Just as the Alhambra decorates the lobby and grounds to go along with the theme of a show (this time with giant carved Tikis), Chef DeJuan Roy and his staff create food that enhances each theatrical experience. The menu that awaits your choice on your South Seas trek includes: Hawaiian Tempura Sweet and Sour Chicken, Macadamia nut crusted Mahi with Pineapple Relish, Kuala Pork with Fried Rice and Kabayaki Sauce, and for the vegetarians, Budda’s Delight, a stir-fried dish with cabbage, tofu, sprouts, corn, carrots, ginger, snow peas, and noodles. The Dual Critics can speak with experience when we say the fish dish, the pork and the stir-fry were all excellent. Dessert follows the theme as well, with a choice of Hawaiian Pineapple Up-Side-Down Cake or a Macadamia Cookie and Coconut Gelato. Are you hungry yet?
We have seen this show several times and always find it delightful mainly because it is impossible to resist the charisma and universal appeal of the songs. The songs shine through time and time again with a welcome and essential warmth. Director Producer TOD BOOTH has assembled a remarkable cast, and Booth’s direction always brings maximum intensity to the stage.
We know it is after labor day , but white slacks and Hawaiian shirts are allowed and encouraged as appropriate dress for this World War II era island adventure.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM