Thursday, November 26, 2015

Review: 'South Pacific'

This deeply satisfying production hits all the themes and storylines of Rogers and Hammerstein's classic musical.

Review: 'South Pacific'

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Michael Sharon and Sarah Litzsinger in 'South Pacific'

By Jim Rutter


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 

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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