October 14, 2016 by Kim Post
A revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical “South Pacific” is a success at the Walnut Street Theatre. Set during World War II, a U.S. Navy nurse is being romanced by a French planter on a South Pacific isle, while the bored sailors get up to mischief as they lust for “dames.”
Star of the show is Kate Fahrner as Ensign “Knucklehead” Nellie Forbush. Fahrner manages to balance the comedic and serious aspects of her role, and puts on a charming Arkansas twang even while maintaining her delicate singing voice in the difficult courtship with Emile de Becque (Paul Schoeffler).
The situation is complicated by new arrival Lt. Joseph Cable (Ben Michael), volunteer for a dangerous mission against the Japanese — and longing for a woman closer than his Philadelphia “Girl Back Home.” Michael fills the role well, but is hampered by a character that is forgettable after his first two songs.
Crowd favorite was the lovable Luther Billis (Fran Prisco). The Seabee’s antics never failed to elicit applause and laughs, and in the second act Prisco pulls off a Polynesian drag show with pride. He makes an especially good partner with Fahrner, the pair carrying the show’s comedy. On the whole the paunchy, stubbled clown seemed to be perfectly channeling John Belushi’s character Bluto from “Animal House.”
Honorable mention is due to Lori Tan Chinn as Bloody Mary, the crone who sells grass skirts and shrunken heads. The intentionally shrill islander is consistently funny and becomes sympathetic; Chinn avoids the caricature her role might easily become.
The theater’s detailed, moving set and props give the two-act performance a dynamism which the actors make excellent use of. Quick scene changes keep the action light-hearted when it needs to be. Especially, the convincingly driven Jeep is a nice touch, completing the atmosphere of the airstrip.
The original Broadway production, with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, opened in 1949 and ran for 1,925 performances. It expressed to the post-war public the particularly American sentiment that true love can overcome any differences between people. The company at the Walnut has captured that essential optimism and ably delivers it to a new generation.
“South Pacific” opened Sept. 6 and will run through Oct. 23. Free tickets were available to Honors Program students via the quarterly Ticket Tuesday scheme.