South Pacific. Music by Richard Rodgers. Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan, based on Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener. Directed by Janet Tweedie. Musical director Jenna Hinton. Choreographer Belinda Hassall. Queanbeyan Players. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. June 2-11. Bookings: 62856290 or theq.net.au.
Queanbeyan Players' next show is the 1949 Broadway musical South Pacific. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and 10 Tony Awards and with a score that ranges from romantic songs like Some Enchanted Evening to lusty chorus numbers such as There Is Nothing Like A Dame, it's one of the enduring classics of the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon.
.Ellen Scott and Michael Moore play one of the apparently mismatched couples at the centre of the story. He's Emile de Becque, a middle-aged French plantation owner, she's Nellie Forbush, a young American nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas, and they meet on a Polynesian island during World War II.
This is Moore's second time performing in South Pacific.
"I was in it in high school. Last time I got to be a sailor."
In this production, though, he's playing one of the lead roles, a Frenchman with a mysterious past who's being courted by the American military to take part in a dangerous spy mission that could affect the course of the war as he used to live on the island where it will take place. It's a role Moore appreciates: a rare opportunity for a romantic lead for a mature singer wth a deeper range, created by operatic bass Ezio Pinza
Interestingly, although they are romantic partners, Emile and Nellie hardly sing together. Moore says this was at the insistence of the original Nellie, Mary Martin.
"She didn't want his voice overpowering her voice...there's only a little bit where they sing together, about 15 or 16 bars."
Pinza, for his part, insisted that he sing for no more than 15 minutes in the show, presumably because he was unaccustomed to the demanding eight-shows-a-week Broadway schedule.
Scott says Nellie is a naive young woman who's had a very sheltered upbringing .
"She wanted to see to the world and meet new kinds of people and see if she liked that better."
As a military nurse in a combat zone, she may have received more than she bargained for - especially when she encounters Emile and they are attracted to each other.
"In some ways she's very progressive - she likes that he's a slightly older Frenchman."
But when she finds out something about his past she discovers that she is not as liberal as she thought she was.
The other couple in the play, providing another depiction of prejudice, is the American lieutenant Joe Cable (Anthony Simeonovic) - who's undertaking the spy mission - and a Tonkinese girl Liat (Jadziah Oakes), daughter of local trader Bloody Mary (Tina Robinson), with whom he falls in love. Cable is torn between his feelings for Liat and his awareness of his family's reaction should he bring her home to the US with him.
While Rodgers and Hammerstein wanted to provide a serious and, for the time,daring exploration of prejudice, set against the backdrop of the recently ended Second World War, there's a lighter side to the show, especially in the antics of the restless and sexually frustrated Seabees, led by scheming rascal Luther Billis (Andrew Macmillan).
"He considers himself a salesman," Macmillan says - though he's got competition in the form of Bloody Mary, who's also spruiking her wares.
Romantically,too, he's also up against it.
"He's got a bit of a thing for Nellie who brings out a little more of a heart of gold."
While she may not reciprocate his feelings, Billis is willing to go to some lengths for Nellie, even dressing in drag for a comedy burlesque number to help entertain the servicemen and women with her. It's Macmillan's first principal role in a show.
Given that the US was dealing with its own racial issues - the civil rights movement would soon begin igniting in a big way and race has remained an ongoing issue - Moore says, "For the time, South Pacific was pretty bold. It really had something to say."
Scott says, "What makes the musical still relevant today is that it's about the acceptance of other cultures ... It's not about where you come from, it's not about your upbringing, it's not what's the colour of your skin. We're all people; it's about how we treat each other. That shows what people are."