By Scott L. Miley
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
The romance of the Polynesian islands, contrasted against the realities of World War II, sets the images and plot for the musical “South Pacific.”
Underlying that beauty, however, are personal struggles to overcome the limitations of racism, age differences and political agendas. Those elements have made “South Pacific” a crowning achievement since its 1949 Broadway debut.
And, of course, there’s the music: the haunting “Some Enchanted Evening,” the catchy “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” and the freeing “Younger Than Springtime.”
Anderson’s Mainstage Theatre would have been guaranteed success just by staging “South Pacific.” However, Anderson’s Mainstage Theatre director Rick Vale and cast take audiences into a tropical setting and romantic adventure that is spectacular for the community theater.
As might be recalled by most from the film, which differs slightly from the Broadway musical, an Army nurse, Nellie Forbush (played by Jessica Cookston), has fallen in love with a French expatriate Emile de Becque (Rick Purvis). He has two children from a marriage to a Polynesian woman and Nellie will show reluctance in accepting the kids. Seabee Luther Bills (Andrew Persinger) is a conniving sailor who provides comic relief. And Lt. Joseph Cable (Daniel Wohlberg) is sent to the islands on a mission to spy on the Japanese; de Becque will be asked to accompany him. Cable falls in love with a island woman.
For Mainstage, there isn’t a single scene that goes adrift when any of those four performers are on stage.
Watch Cookston’s sparkling eyes. When she looks from the stage to the back of theater, she captures the wonder of seeing a setting sun or the majestic hills of a nearby island; she takes the audience with her. Her vocals and energy are captivating.
Her co-star, Rick Purvis, returns to Mainstage after too long of an absence. He has everything his role demands – from a thick French accent to a rich basso contralto singing voice. Purvis is charming; we feel his pain when Nellie rejects his children.
Wohlberg’s singing is evocative on “Younger Than Springtime.” Persinger is a joy to watch — even when he wears a skirt and a coconut bra in a “gutsy” performance.
Granted, some side roles need stronger singing voices. And due to time and staging constraints, some unifying sections have been trimmed. But this 2 hour, 15-minute Polynesian trip is a fulfilling and enchanting start for Mainstage’s 2013 season.