Rodgers And Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” Review – Rubicon Theatre’s Fabulous Two-Piano Version with Cast of 28

Katharine Farmer and the team have found artists with gorgeous voices who are also extraordinary actors intent on mining the rich human truths of their characters

 Katharine Farmer and the team have found artists with gorgeous voices who are also extraordinary actors intent on mining the rich human truths of their characters

Madison Claire Parks and Ben Davis. Photo by R Slavin

 Rubicon Theatre’s 20th Anniversary Season culminates with a two-piano version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s soaringepic “South Pacific,” helmed by award-winning director Katharine Farmer and featuring a cast of 28 led by Tony honoree Ben Davis (Baz Luhrmann’s La Bohème) and Madison Claire Parks (Luisa in The Fantasticks Off-Broadway).

 South Pacific premiered on Broadway in 1949 and became the second-longest running Broadway musical after Oklahoma!, winning eight Tony Awards (Best Musical, Best Libretto and Best Score, and Tony Awards in all fouracting categories). In 1950, South Pacific received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and for the first time the committee included a composer (Richard Rodgers) in the drama prize. The Broadway Lincoln Center revival in 2008 won seven Tony Awards.

  Kirby Ward, Madison Claire Parks and cast. Photo by Jeanne Tanner

 Based on James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, “Tales of the South Pacific,” the timeless musical score includes beautiful ballads such as “Younger than Springtime” and “Some Enchanted Evening,” exuberant up-tempo songs like “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy,” comic character numbers like “There Is Nothing Like a Dame,”and the still-timely “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.

Set on an exotic island during World War II, the plot follows two love stories about seeming-opposites brought together by the circumstances of war and torn apart by prejudice and fear. Nellie Forbush (Parks), a naïve American nurse from a small town, falls in love with sophisticated French plantation owner Emile deBecque (Davis), and Joe Cable (Alex Nee), a Marine Lieutenant from Philadelphia finds himself drawn to Liat (Jamie Yun), a young native girl.

Madison Claire Parks and Ben Davis. Photo by Jeanne Tanner
Jamie Yun, Alex Nee and Jodi Kimura. Photo by Jeanne Tanner

“While embracing the romance and humor of this great classic,” says Director Farmer, “we are also working to create a more gritty world and convey the various facets of life for these characters during the Pacific campaign: the sense of purpose, the adventure, the tedium, the anxiety—all of it. Even the heat is a factor. These are real people spending long days in a tropical climate with the possibility of eminent attack. There’s a feeling of isolation, of being away from home.”       

Ben Davis, Joseph Fuqua, Andy Umberger, Alex Nee. Photo by Jeanne Tanner

Farmer and Mike Billings (Sets, Lights and Multimedia) conceived a set made up of military issue pieces that the ensemble move to create various locales. “The idea is that we as American military in wartime are trying to maneuver and manage what happens on this little island in a culture that has different values than our own,” says Farmer. “The action gives us the illusion of having some control. But there are larger forces at work—God, the beauty and majesty and cruelty of nature, our own complex human natures, our penchant for conflict and war,our capacity for understanding and forgiveness, etc.”

Some of this mood is magnificently created through constantly rolling projections high above the stage, showing islands and ocean waves breaking along shorelines. You’re looking at the mess below, but seeing the palm trees above you. The sun sets and the clouds roll in. Warplanes fly, ships sail, all creating appropriate illusions of action, distance, and scenic beauty. The atmosphere is magically enacted, while innovative onstage props are shifted around seamlessly and creatively for scene changes.

Madison Claire Parks and cast. Photo by Jeanne Tanner
Ian James, Jodi Kimura, Kevin Gilmond and cast. Photo by Jeanne Tanner

All song and dance routines are faultlessly executed on a small stage by a large number of performers. The leading stars have wonderful singing voices and are ably supported by the entire talented ensemble.

Jodi Kimura and Alex Nee and cast. Photo by Jeanne Tanner.

Bloody Mary’s (Jodi Kimura) performances are powerful and believable. Burns says, “Jodi is a facile and versatile actor and brought a more dark, desperate quality to the character than one often sees. It felt very right. You believe that this Bloody Mary is a woman who would sell her daughter to save her daughter.”

With a cast of 28, South Pacific will be one of the largest shows mounted at Rubicon Theatre Companyto date. Says Burns, “The cast members of this South Pacific are also a part of what we believe will make this show different. Katharine and the team have found artists with gorgeous voices who are also extraordinary actors intent on mining the rich human truths of their characters.”

Madison Claire Parks and Ben Davis. Photo by R. Slavin

About the Leads: Ben Davis was a Tony honoree for Baz Luhrmann’s La Bohème, in which he played Marcello. He has also starred on Broadway as Trevor Graydon in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Javert and Enjolras in LesMisérables, the Preacher in Violet, and many more roles.

 Madison Claire Parks received critical acclaim this year for her portrayal of SarahBrown in Guys and Dolls with both Musical Theatre West and Theatre Under the Stars. She is perhaps best known for her more than 400 performances as Luisa in the historic Off-Broadway production of The Fantasticks in New York.

“This production of South Pacific is also dear to us because it is a Rubicon family production in many respects,” says Burns. “Some ensemble members and our Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) grew up as a part of Rubicon’s education programs.

 “Katharine also cast actors who may be younger than is typical in the roles of Cable and Liat, Alex Nee (National Tours of Onceand American Idiot) and actress/writer Jamie Yun (“Ghosted”). Both of them have a charismatic, winsome, even slightly contemporary quality that makes them very relatable.”

Alex Nee and Jamie Yun. Photo by Jeanne Tanner
Jamie Yun, Alex Nee and Jodi Kimura. Photo by Jeanne Tanner

 Other cast members: Olivier Nominee and Helen Hayes Award-winner Kirby Ward as Luther Billis (Crazy for You in London), Andrew Umberger as Captain Brackett (City of Angels and Passion on Broadway), company member Joseph Fuqua as Lt. Harbison (Rubicon’s Hamlet/My Fair Lady), and Marc Ginsburg (5-Star’s Shrek) as Stewpot.

Returning Rubicon alums: Lilli Babb (Hello My Baby/A ChristmasCarol) and Claire Burgi (Bye, Bye Birdie); Natalie Graham of Santa Paula (WestSide Story – also Associate Choreographer for South Pacific); Zachary Macias; Josh Ranck of Ventura; Toby Tropper (Noises Off/A Christmas Carol)and Samantha Winters (Merrily We Roll Along/King Lear). Madeleine Wilson (Hamlet/Return to the Forbidden Planet) is working on her first Equity contract as ASM on the show.

Ovation Award-winner Brent Crayon serves as Musical Director and First Keyboard Player, and Lee Martino (multiple Ovation and L.A. Drama Critics Circle Awards) is choreographer.

 IanNunney of Ojai and Isabella De Los Santos of Ventura who have been a part of Rubicon’s summer youth intensives play Jerome and Ngana,respectively. Other local artists include Kevin Gilmond (Shrek at 5-StarTheatricals) and Nikko Arce (Amélie at Out of the Box Theatre Company) as Henry.

South Pacific is directed by Katharine Farmer, whose 2017 Rubicon production of Gulf View Drive won the Ovation Award for Best Production of a Play, Larger Theatre.

CAST: Jodi Kimura, nominated for a Helen Hayes Award in D.C. for her portrayal of Bloody Mary and was the only American in the London Lincoln Center cast. Ben Davis (Emile DeBeque) is a Tony honoree and Madison Claire Parks (Nellie Forbush) is perhaps best known for her more than 400performances as Luisa in the historic Off-Broadway production of The Fantasticks in New York. Also featured in the cast are Alex Nee (National Tours of Once and American Idiot), actress/writer Jamie Yun (“Ghosted”), Olivier Nominee and Helen Hayes Award-nominee Kirby Ward (Crazy for You in London), Andrew Umberger (City of Angels and Passion on Broadway),company member Joseph Fuqua (Rubicon’s Hamlet/My Fair Lady), and Marc Ginsburg (5-Star’s Shrek).


 

The ensemble of Nurses and Seabees also includes Dani Bush, Bailey Blaise, Brett Calo, Ethan Daniel Corbett, Samantha Corbett, Ian James, Marissa Mayer And Whitney Noelle.

The design team includes Mike Billings (Sets, Lights and Multimedia). Also on the creative team are Costume Designer Pamela Shaw, Sound Designer Jonathan Burke and Prop Designer T. Theresa Scarano along with Associate Musical Director/Second Keyboard Player Jen Oikawa, Production Stage Manager Jeffry George and Associate Producer/Casting Director Beverly Ward.

The original cast album of SouthPacific was the bestselling record of the 1940s, and the show has enjoyed many successful revivals and tours, notably the 2008 Broadway revival, which ran for 996 performances and won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical Revival.

Schedule and Pricing

The gala opening was Sat., Dec. 8 at 7:00 p.m., followed by a party with the cast and local dignitaries. It runs through Dec, 23.

The production continues Wednesdays at 2 and 7 p.m., Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdaysat 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through December 23. Many performances are sold out. An additional show is added for Dec. 16th at 7 p.m. Talkbacks, where audience members are invited to participate in a facilitated discussion with the actors,are scheduled following the Wednesday performances.

All performances are at Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main Street in Ventura’s Downtown Cultural District (the corner or Main and Laurel).

Tickets are $65 plus a $4 service fee. Special pricing for students with ID are $25; teachers and active military with ID are $40. There is a $5 discount for seniors 65 and older. For tickets call (805) 667-2900 or visit here

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