Let's Talk Off Broadway

Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

OFF-BROADWAY ON LONG ISLAND – Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, directed by Robert Boedeker, The North Fork Community Theatre, Matttituck, Long Island

… a complete world …

Looking for an enchanted evening?  You couldn't find a better one than an evening spent at South Pacific — beautifully produced and played by the North Fork Community Theatre.  

To hear right off the bat those wonderful show stoppers — Some Enchanted EveningA Cockeyed OptimistBloody Mary… and … well, it’s tremendously moving.   Of course what makes it powerful are the strong performances.   It’s almost shockingly beautiful when – you’ve barely taken your seat — Ryan Beodeker, as the mysterious French expatriate Emile De Becque, opens his expressive voice to Some Enchanted Evening and, before you’ve had a chance to recover from the power, Tess Leavay as Ensign Nellie Forbush surprises with A Cockeyed Optimist with her marvelous full range, totally professional voice and delivery.   We’re in great hands!

Set during World War II in and around a U.S. naval base, South Pacific focuses on two love stories, one between Nurse Nellie Forbush, the self-described “little hick” from Arkansas and Emile De Becque, the wealthy French planter with an equivocal past, who meet at a dance on the base on an evening whose enchantment, thanks to music, has risen to the realm of the great communal mythology.  

The other love story is that of Lt. Joseph Cable who comes to the base on a secret mission of great import and the native girl, Liat, the daughter of the lusty, vulgar, commercial-minded and oh so smart Bloody Mary, played with energizing vitality by Christina Stankewicz – she’s just what you want in the part.  The adversities in the first story lead to growth and the deepest possible love and understanding;  those in the other lead to tragedy.   Through their stories we hear Rodgers', Hammerstein's and Logan's** sense of the tragedy of prejudice and vision of common humanity.     

For a wonderful South Pacific, Emile and Nellie have to be outstanding performers and passionate lovers and that's what we have here.  Tess Leavay is an all-round perfect Nellie!  She sings, dances and acts and completely captures the character of the bouncy, adorable nurse who grows to full womanhood through her experience and love of Emile.  Kelli O’Hara was a delight in the part at Lincoln Center Theatre in Manhattan a couple of years ago – Tess Leavay seems to me her equal, and brings a kind of naturalism to the part that adds to its fullness.

When Nellie washes that man right out of her hair in a shower on stage* – in the midst of all the fun, you really feel how hard it is to wash him out of her heart (though I wish she'd gotten a little wetter).  Frolicking in her over-sized sailor suit at the Thanksgiving Celebration (what a touch of genius that scene is !) with the irrepressible seabee Luther Billis (William Finn), she is some Honey Bun !  So’s Finn as Billis – in his grass skirt and coconuts, singing, dancing, and swarming all over the stage with irresistible charisma.          

Ryan Beodeker’s Emile is a seductive European with a wonderful French accent (so consistent I was really surprised to hear his American accent in at the end of the show when he spoke to the audience about the important project North Fork Community Theatre is engaged in to fully purchase its theatre).  As well as having a beautiful voice, he’s a fine actor and whether he’s gazing intently at Nelly, wooing her with words or singing to her, one feels what one has to feel – his ardor.   These are all complex, fully woven characters and yet they come across with the direct hit of sheer romance.  

Abby Tyler and Peter Gwiazda play Emile's children "of mixed blood" with poise and grace, singing their song, Dites Moi, with uncloying, lovable simplicity. 

This is a full South Pacific – 31 terrific performers in the cast and 11 in the orchestra that plays behind the lush, seductive tropical scenery, all put together seamlessly, with vitality and deep understanding by Director Robert Boedeker, Musical Director Jacob Boergessen, and the performing and production cast.

South Pacific is all the Bali Ha’i anyone could ever want.  If you try, you will find it – at North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck.

South Pacific plays at the North Fork Community in Mattituck, Long Island through Sunday, August 12th.  For more information on times and tickets, click on live link of title.

*Quiz:  In what current film does a character sing on stage in the shower?  (And is that where Woody Allen got the idea?)  Click here for answer — to the first question.

Yvonne Korshak

*South Pacific's music was written by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Oscar Hamerstein II and Joshua Logan, and was adapted from James A. Michener's Pulitzer Prize winning novel Tales of the South Pacific of 1947.  It premiered on Broadway in 1949 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950. 

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2 Comments

  1. Tullia

    Thia is an “enchanting” review— I sure wish South Pacific would be revived in the city, since I cannot go out to the Island to see it. I did see the original performance when it played on Broadway in 1950 and your review brought it all back to me with amazing vividness, I remember being totally captivated by the actor who played the role of Emile. Thank you and thank, and thank you again!!! for bringing back to my memory one of the highlights of my going to the theater. What a pleasure it was to read your delightful, memory-stirring review! Tullia

  2. Joe Green

    Your review really tells the story of both the musical – if you will opera – and the performance. How wonderful for the North Fork Community Theater to have put together such a complex piece in such a splendid manner. I too feel that Tress Leaway was really superb and hope that I may have the pleasure see her again. Witnessing South Pacific In 2012 Is much different than when it opened more than half a century ago. At that time and even today It Is a real statement concerning the ability of people to rid themselves of prejudice. There was only one slight fault with the production, is that we did not get to see the wonderful musicians behind the sets who work so hard. I would have liked to give them and their conductor a special round of applause as well. This is a go see no matter what.

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