Outdoor summer theater can be as romantic as an evening on Feb. 14, especially if you take in the current Summer Theatre of New Canaan production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.” Everything works here. The cast is top notch; the musicians are superior; and the musical is quite simply one of the all-time best ever. This outdoor theater is under a specially designed tent, so even rain won’t keep audiences away.
What keeps this musical so contemporary is not only that it deals with social issues we are still dealing with today like racism, but the lyrics and songs are so romantic that until romance dies, this musical will live on. Best of all, there’s not one musical number that isn’t terrific.
Tiffan Borelli plays Ensign Nellie Forbush and really captures the essence of the character. It’s easy to believe that Borelli is a cockeyed optimist. Her performance is as authentic as it is inspired. Her vocals are spot on and her playfulness in the role punctuates the spirit of Nellie Forbush. Daniel Klein as Emile De Becque got thunderous applause after his first solo. He has one of those voices that makes you sit up and say “Wow, what a voice!” Not surprisingly, he made the vocal jump from opera to musical theater with this production, though he is scheduled to perform in a Puccini opera come August. One can only hope that he keeps jumping.
Janelle Robinson plays Bloody Mary with enough spunk to keep the fun factor of the show very high. Considering that she originated the role of Mrs. Corry in the Broadway production of “Mary Poppins,” fun accompanies her strong vocals perfectly. Also claiming a fair share of the fun is Nick Reynolds as Luther Billis. His performance weighs in at 101 pounds of fun.
Jason Michael Evens as Lt. Joseph Cable not only stole the heart of Liat, played superbly by Kim Wong, but he stole the hearts of many of the women in the audience when he sang “Younger Than Springtime.” His performance accentuates the overall excellence of director Allegra Libonati, musical director David Hancock Turner, and choreographer Doug Shankman.
When it comes to set design, surely Julia Noulin-Mérat deserves an ovation. With an actual army jeep positioned to one side of the stage and all the necessary tropical flair in place, her set wastes no time in transporting the audience to an island in the South Pacific. Sara Cogan’s costumes complete the army/island motif with cleverly colorful and appropriate costumes for each member of the cast.
Overall, this is a big hit for the outdoor Equity theater. With songs such as “Dite-Moi,” “Bali Ha’i,” “Honey Bun,” and “Happy Talk,” this production is as lively as it is romantic. Playing through July 13, this is one summer romance that will linger long after the final curtain.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association, and covers art and culture in a blog for CBS and CBS-CT. She welcomes comments. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.