(*homocinematically inclined)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Reverend’s Interview: There is Nothin’ Like South Pacific

Local theatres will soon be overrun by coconut trees, hunky sailors and forbidden romance as the acclaimed Broadway revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific has its Southern California premiere. The production will run at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles May 27-July 17, and October 12-24 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Winner of the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival, and originally adapted from a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by James Michener, South Pacific follows the travails of a diverse group of servicemen and women on a remote island during World War II. Memorable characters Nellie Forbush (originally played by Mary Martin), plantation owner Emile de Becque and Bloody Mary belt such unforgettable songs as “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Younger than Springtime,” “Bali Ha’i” and “(I’m in Love with) A Wonderful Guy.” The musical also won the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Two cast members of the touring production — the openly gay Joe Langworth, who also served as Associate Choreographer of the Broadway revival, and Anderson Davis, who plays the conflicted Lt. Joseph Cable — recently spoke with Blade about the significance of this classic musical.

“The music is so ingrained in so many people’s brains,” said Langworth, “and it crosses generations, which amazes me.” This seems all the more significant when one realizes this is the first Broadway revival of South Pacific, which originally debuted in 1948. However, the musical has been a perennial favorite among high schools and local theatre companies.

Davis laughed, “One of the first musicals I ever did was playing Emile in my high school production of South Pacific. The original production was so controversial, but it remains so relevant.”

Both performers noted that the subject of racism, prominently confronted in South Pacific via Cable’s relationship with a native woman, is still significant and has important parallels in the current fight for equal rights by GLBT people.

“Race remains an issue in this country, despite progress that has been made,” according to Langworth. “We have taken steps and have come so far even though we have so far to go. Everyone who is not accepted in some way for who they are can resonate with this story.”

“For me,” Davis said, “it’s so incredible that (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II and co-writer Joshua Logan) decided to do such a powerful statement on racism just a few years after WWII ended and a good twenty years before the Civil Rights Movement.”

Davis, who is straight, reflected further: “My first reaction to this story and songs like "You Have to be Carefully Taught" was from a gay marriage awareness. It amazes me that so many people can’t make the leap from racism to prejudice against gay people and the notion of gay marriage. That’s the main issue among my circle of friends. The most important thing about South Pacific is how incredibly relevant it is.”

Langworth has been involved with the revival of South Pacific for over three years. He assisted with casting the original Broadway production, a process which took a year. “We’re really excited about the tour and how people are receiving it,” he said. “The audience is another character in the play, and watching how the actors react to each new audience is amazing.”

Both performers spoke of their exceptionally high regard for Bartlett Sher, director of this production. “Bart is brilliant and has been great to work with,” said Langworth. “He’s taught me so much and treated the show with such respect; we’re representing people who served our country, and we try to honor them every night.”

Davis echoed this by saying: “This is a story about things that did happen in another part of the world; I really tried to get into the shoes of a military serviceman.” Of Sher, choreographer Christopher Gattelli and music director Ted Sperling, Davis states, “I’d love to work with this creative team again, more so than doing any particular show or role.”

Prior to the tour of South Pacific, the accomplished Langworth served as Associate Director of the current Tony-nominated, gay-themed play Next Fall. It is playing at the Helen Hayes Theatre in New York City. “It’s a play about family and what constitutes family; there is a gay couple that is pivotal as the drama unfolds over the evening,” Langworth explained. “It also deals with faith, as one in the couple is an atheist and one is a Christian.”

The younger Davis is still starting out as an actor, despite working consistently since graduating in 2006 from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Davis said his transition to the bright lights of Broadway when he was cast in the 2006 revival of Les Miserables was “definitely an adjustment.” He performed in numerous regional productions, including the stage version of High School Musical 2, prior to his being cast in South Pacific.

“You have no idea how excited we are to be playing LA and southern California for a good length of time,” Davis said. He spoke of the possibility of relocating here once his commitment to South Pacific ends in 2011.

New York Times theatre critic Ben Brantley wrote of the 2008 revival of South Pacific: "I know we’re not supposed to expect perfection in this imperfect world, but I’m darned if I can find one serious flaw in this production."

Interviews by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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