No matter what your age, you most likely have had a tune from “South Pacific” stuck in your head for an entire day — “Some Enchanted Evening,” “I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy,” and, of course, “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair.”
And after a night in Mattituck with a spot-on production of one of the most popular Rodgers and Hammerstein plays to come out of the golden age of Broadway musicals, you’ll be humming those old familiar tunes about life and love on a remote Pacific island during World War II for a week.
is the last show of this season for the which is close to purchasing the historic building they’ve leased for years. And, with two more weekends to go, it’s a good one.
Director Robert Beodeker uses a lush yet simple and easily transformable set design, which immediately takes you to a misty island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as the play opens with two adorable young actors, Abby Tyler and Peter Gwiazda, singing a childhood courtship song, “Dites Moi.” These are the children of Emile De Becque, an expatriate French plantation owner who has fallen in love with Nellie Forbush, a young nurse with the U.S. Navy stationed at a naval base on the island.
This unlikely love affair is only one of the dramas to unfold in “South Pacific,” the plot of which was crafted from several stories in James A. Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 book, Tales of the South Pacific. Ryan Beodeker is just as sincere as he is handsome and charming in his performance as the love-struck Frenchman, and the romance with Nellie is warm and believable on stage.
Tess Leavay as Nellie is everything this optimistic gal from Arkansas was meant to be — naïve, goofy, strong-willed, vulnerable, lovely. Leavay, musical director Jacob Boergessen, choreographer Lucille Naar-Saladino and the rest of the female cast nail the classic towel-twirling routine around a make-shift shower for “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair,” when Nellie decides to protect her heart from a man she just met. The number is one of the stronger routines in the three-hour-plus production, which tends to get a bit static for lack of movement during certain points.
Nicholas Trioisi as Lt. Joseph Cable and Danielle Allen as Liat are the key players in the second romance in the play, and though both are strong actors, their relationship isn’t as believable as that between Emile and Nellie. But the issue of racial tension and prejudice is explored well through this sub-plot — something that was important to Rodgers and Hammerstein to include in “South Pacific" back in the '50s.
Cable is from Philidelphia and Liat is the daughter of a middle-aged island woman the sailors call Bloody Mary — played with a great comic touch by Christina Stankewicz and one of the show’s comic reliefs, with her grass skirt vending and teasing of the idle sailors. These young men constantly lament their lack of female companionship and long to visit the nearby island of "Bali Ha'i" — another classic tune that is reprised tastefully throughout the play.
The sailors are lead by a fast-talking but good-hearted womanizer named Luther Billis, played by William Finn, a ball of energy who lights up the stage every time he takes it. The character of Billis is meant to be a sort of comedic glue to weave around the heavier romantic plots, but Finn takes his Billis to a starring role, adding a lot of youthful excitement to the production. Finn’s lead in routines like “Nothing Like a Dame” and in the Thanksgiving Follies during the second act, when he finally gets to Bali Ha’i and shamelessly dances in a grass skirt and coconut-shell bra, truly define the spirit of this ambitious production.
Jacob Boergessen’s musical direction is also tastefully done with a small orchestra hidden behind a wall of south Pacific greenery — they keep things moving along during set changes, and the music-to-vocal balance is perfect throughout.
Costume design by Diane Peterson is also impressive in that you don’t really notice it. You just believe that you’re with these folks on an island during one of the world’s most troubled and life-changing times, hoping that they find love and keep love — and definitely remembering the songs they sing.
"South Pacific" runs Aug. 4 - 5 and Aug. 9 - 12. Shows start at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and Sunday matinees begin at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at NFCT.com or at 631-298-6328.