Staging the classic musical offers a sea full of challenges
Nellie Forbush is ready to wash that man right out of her hair, and she's going to do it with gusto, as senior Lindsey Lopez and a cast of nearly 40 students get ready to take to the stage in Oregon City High School's production of 'South Pacific.'
The classic musical opens Dec. 7, and continues Dec. 8, 9 and 10.
Drama teacher and director Karlyn Love has been waiting almost 10 years to do the musical, and the time is right, she said, because 'South Pacific has so much to say today. We are still at war, and we are still overcoming our prejudices in our society and culture. I wanted to pick a play with an important message, and even if people don't get it, I feel good about trying.'
The musical was inspired by James Michener's 'Tales of the South Pacific,' Love noted, and it weaves together several stories from his book into the plot for the musical. The story revolves around World War II army nurse Nellie Forbush meeting and falling in love with French planter Emile de Becque at a Navy base on an island in the South Pacific. The musical deals with racial sensitivity between Nellie and Emile and between Lt. Joseph Cable and his Tonkinese love, Liat. All this is set in a background of the cost of the war to the soldiers and nurses who fought it.
The musical is not staged at the high school level very often, Love noted, because there are adult issues in the play, and it can be difficult for young people, with shorter life experience, to convey all the needed emotions.
Also, she said, is the fact that 'South Pacific' is a full two-act show.
'Today's audiences have trouble with such a long piece, so we have tightened it up, and made the set more symbolic, so there are no long breaks between scenes,' Love said.
Her favorite moment in the play takes place at the beginning of Act 1, when Nellie and Emile are singing their most innermost thoughts, but they can't hear each other.
'Then at the end of Act 1, they sing the same songs to each other. It is a very creative and theatrical moment,' Love said.
All the songs in 'South Pacific' convey 'feeling and emotion and need to be acted and not just sung.'
Nellie and Bloody Mary
Lopez's favorite moment in the show is when 'Nellie is on the beach, by herself, and she realizes how stupid she has been, how blinded she has been. She realizes that Emile is more important to her than any kind of prejudice.'
Nellie is an optimistic character, Lopez said, and at first glance she and Emile seem like opposites, because he is 'more refined and mature than anybody she's met before.'
But, Love pointed out, the characters are both romantics.
'Nellie is also very brave and willing to question what she has been taught, willing to let go of what has been ingrained in her,' Love added.
Lopez said she likes to think of herself as an optimistic person with strong family values like Nellie's.
'I also like that she is willing to be her own person, be herself,' she said.
Her biggest challenge in the role is conveying the emotions she feels towards Emile and the loss she feels when he's gone.
Audiences will like all the catchy songs, she noted, adding that students will be able to relate to the musical, especially seniors, who are trying to figure out their lives as they are about to set off on new adventures when they graduate.
Gloria Pidasheff, also a senior, brings to life a vivid character named Bloody Mary, who runs a kiosk catering to the sailors on the island.
'She is Polynesian, very loud and hardworking. She cares about her daughter, Liat, wanting her to get a better life,' she said.
Pidasheff's background is Ukrainian and Russian, and she noted that she was able to bring a lot of her own culture into the role, because like Bloody Mary, she is very connected to her family.
Her favorite moment in the play is the number 'Bloody Mary,' when 'off the bat you learn what the character is like and how others are treating her. She doesn't know they are making fun of her, and she enjoys the attention.'
The most challenging song for her is 'Bali Hai,' because she needs to convey to the audience the mystery of that 'eerie but beautiful island. That is where her dreams are,' Pidasheff said.
She added that people should come and see the musical, because of the diversity of the characters and the different cultures portrayed.
The Oregon City High School Performing Arts Department presents Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'South Pacific.'
Dec. 7, 8, 9, and 10, at 7:30 p.m.
Venue: Oregon City High School, Main Stage Theatre, 19761 S. Beavercreek Road.
Tickets are $9, and are only available at the door; the box office opens at 6:45 p.m.
The play is recommended for ages 13 and older.
For more information, visit the website at: www.ochs.orecity.k12.or.us/drama.