An enchanted evening in Bethlehem

Julia Sun appears as Liat in the production of South Pacific running through Aug. 11 at The Gary-The Olivia Performing Arts Center in Bethlehem. (Courtesy The Gary-The Olivia Performing Arts Center)Julia Sun appears as Liat in the production of South Pacific running through Aug. 11 at The Gary-The Olivia Performing Arts Center in Bethlehem. (Courtesy The Gary-The Olivia Performing Arts Center)Taking on a production like “South Pacific” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II is always a major undertaking, especially for community theaters because just about everyone involved with the show has a full-time job. Theater-going audiences know the hard work and commitment that it takes not only for the cast, but the crew and creative team, as well.
So when a show like “South Pacific” at the Gary-The Olivia Theatre comes together beautifully, success is very sweet.  
Some of the most anticpated moments in a big musical like “South Pacific” are finding out what the lead voices are going to be like. Just about everyone old enough to buy a ticket has heard some of the songs from this great musical.
And then that moment happens. It’s when Katie Keough as Nellie Forbush sings her first big number and Thomas Camm as Emile de Becque sings his. They’ve got the big voices to handle these enormous roles. That’s when you sit back, smile, and know you’re in for a treat.

Thanks to the bright and spirited direction and choreography of Sally Camm, this cast retells the story drawn from James A. Michener’s novel, “The Tales of the South Pacific.” During World War II, a young naïve American navy nurse from Little Rock, Ark., meets and falls in love with a French plantation owner who has two children by his deceased dark-skinned Polynesian wife. That’s hard for a gal from Little Rock to understand.
There are two love stories that unfold during this song-filled event. U.S. Marine, Lieutenant Joe Cable falls in love with a dark skinned island girl, even though he has an upper class fiancée back home in Philadelphia. And so one of America’s greatest all time musicals centers on racism and was most controversial in a time when mixing races and cultures was far from the norm.
Though the two Americans struggle to get over their biases, Katie Keough proves that she’s not only a “cockeyed optimist” as Nellie, but she’s energy charged to boot. She’s definitely the all-American girl. Thomas Camm as Emile has all the charm that one expects. That his voice is so powerfully commanding lends a great deal to the success of this production.
Ryan Pipke as the heroic Lt. Cable has the perfect voice for romantic ballads. Alika Hope as the shrewd and comic Bloody Mary is simply superb. She’s like a spark plug that ignites each scene she is in. T. Abram Lee as Luther Billis is also perfectly cast as the comic and somewhat mischievous wheeler-dealer. Julia Sun is lovely as Liat, the Lieutenant’s Polynesian sweetheart.                                                       
A large cast makes it impossible to mention everyone’s name and role here, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the fine performances of Joe Stofko as Capt. Brackett and Br. Kevin McElroy as Commander Harbison. Even though one or two of the sailors or waves looks a bit too young or a bit too old, the director positions and blocks each actor as if each were an element in a well-balanced composition. There’s something so special about this Bethlehem production that like “Bali Ha’I,” it seems to call “Come to me; come to me.” It plays through Aug. 11. Box office: 203-273-5669.

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association, and covers art and culture in a blog for CBS National and CBS-CT. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]