By Jim Rutter
For THE INQUIRER
Not everyone supported the Allied side in World War II. At the time, many agreed when Humphrey Bogart’s bar owner Rick Blaine remarked “I stick my neck out for nobody.”
But even Bogie’s Casablancan cynic would have rallied to the cause after seeing Delaware Theatre Company’s rousing and resplendent production of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein’s South Pacific.
Though set on DTC’s smallish stage, the cast of 26 romps and rallies across Dick Durosette’s wicker set pieces and colorful backdrops (including a real jeep and life-sized model fighter); along with Millie Hiibel’s colorful costumes and dresses, the design evokes the feel of the Solomon Islands during Allied military operations.
At once a pair of heartbreaking love stories, a Bourne-like espionage thriller, a comic take on military R&R, and island adventure, Hammerstein and Joshua Logan’s book also draws parallels between the freedom fought for in WWII and the need to wage war against racism. Under Bud Martin’s impeccable direction, this staging hits all of South Pacific’s themes and storylines with a rewarding fullness.
Johanna Schloss leads a 14-piece orchestra whose low-key playing flickers like a camp fire—just enough to set the mood of an island at dusk, where each song echoes and integrates the yearnings of displaced exiles and deployed military personnel.
Five fantastic voices anchor the production. Each couples their singing with superb characterization, from Sarah Litzsinger’s awkward Arkansas accent (as Nellie) and John Plumpis’ madcap antics as the mischievous Luther Billis to Michael Sharon’s voice as Emile, his thickened with a provincial accent and strained in expression with a Frenchman’s consuming sense of despair (that strangely enough, didn’t originate until after WWII…). Litzsinger and Sharon sparkle in their shared chemistry, and the ensemble of Seabees and Navy nurses keep spirits high even in the darker moments.
“One waits so long for what is good,” Emile remarks. This deeply satisfying production captures the essence of that longing, warmly recalling the values of optimism and hope that carried military men and women through tougher times than these, and reminding us all of just what we fight for.
South Pacific. Presented through May 5 at Delaware Theatre Company, 200Water St. Wilmington. Tickets: $35 to $49. Information: 302-594-1100 or delawaretheatre.org