Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

South Pacific
Goodspeed Musicals
Review by Fred Sokol

Also see Fred's recent reviews of The Thin Place and La Cage aux Folles

Omar Lopez-Cepero and Danielle Wade
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
The Goodspeed Musicals production of South Pacific shines very brightly through August 11. Director Chay Yew and his cast fully honor the classic show featuring Richard Rodgers' music and Oscar Hammerstein II's lyrics. Hammerstein and Joshua Logan wrote the book.

Logan directed the Broadway opening in 1949 and he was the one who originally suggested that Rodgers and Hammerstein select a short story from James Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific." The first choice, however, focused on the relationship between World War II Marine Corps Lt. Joseph Cable (Cameron Loyal at the Goodspeed) and a Polynesian girl named Liat (Alex Humphreys). Liat's mother, Bloody Mary (Joan Almedilla), has always been both touching and formative in renderings of South Pacific and that is the case in East Haddam, as well. The original creative team, however, decided to make that plot a secondary one since it is said they thought it might too closely resemble the Madame Butterfly scenario. Thus, the attraction between the Ensign Nellie Forbush (Danielle Wade), who is from Little Rock and the swarthy Emile de Becque (Omar Lopez-Cepero), a French planter who lives on a Pacific Island with his two children, becomes paramount. They fall in love and it's just pleasant for anyone watching to witness romance in the making.

In addition to director Yew, the creative group includes music leader Adam Souza, choreographer Parker Esse, costumer Junghyun Georgia Lee, set designer Alexander Dodge, and lighting designer Smith Chandrashaker. The production elements, which include a backdrop with delightfully changing colors, truly flavor and lend tone throughout. For certain, it's a classic show with tunes that, as the cliche goes, last forever.

We know the songs, which begin with "Dites-moi" as Emile's children Ngana (Sky Vaux Fuller) and Jerome (Emjay Roa) nearly chortle and quite delectably. That leads to Nellie's "A Cockeyed Optimist," and Emile's heartfelt "Some Enchanted Evening" all in the very first scene. The second act includes Seabees with "Bloody Mary" and a distinctive Billis (Keven Quillon) joining in on the rousing "There is Nothin' Like a Dame." Joan Almedilla embodies Bloody Mary with resonant soul and that distinctively marks her version of "Bali Ha'i."

The hit parade of showtunes continues with Nellie's "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair," her reprise, with Emile, of "Some Enchanted Evening," and then, with nurses, "I'm In Love With a Wonderful Guy." Those highlight the first act. The second, and shorter portion of this nearly three hour evening, includes "Happy Talk," "Honey Bun, and then Cable's neat version of "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught." Cameron Loyal, like others, has extended vocal range. This song's theme deals with prejudice and soon thereafter, Nellie learns that Emile's late wife and the man she, Nellie, now loves, had children who are of mixed race. This is news to Nellie, a girl from Arkansas. One could delve more deeply into possible messaging within this musical and discuss its relevance when it comes to roles of gender, too.

Because the actors are vigorous and well-rehearsed, they successfully transport those watching to another time (the 1940s), another place (the island in the South Pacific) and, really, another realm of life. Nothing is haphazard and members of this cast are sensitive when need be and enthusiastically zestful at other times.

Omar Lopez-Cepero, as Emile, is passionate or more quietly caring depending on the situation. With previous credits at the Goodspeed as well as on and off Broadway, he's most appealing in the current show, receiving more applause as he took a bow than anyone else. While giving the deserving Lopez-Cepero his deserved due, the opening night Goodspeed patrons were not quite so animated in their response to Danielle Wade. The list of famed actresses who have played Nellie dates back to Mary Martin and includes women such as Cloris Leachman, Florence Henderson, and Kelli O'Hara. Wade is not overpowering but she pays great attention to the details of her character, has impressive emotional reactions, and is so wonderfully believable. She and Lopez-Cepero meet a high artistic bar which director Yew set. It's rewarding to see that virtually everyone in this cast is up to that challenge.

South Pacific runs through August 11, 2024, at Goodspeed Musicals, 6 Main St., East Haddam CT. For tickets and information, please call 860-873-8668 or visit