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Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


South Pacific — uneven acting, valiant directing

It is no surprise that FAU’s Summer Repertory Theater has decided to make South Pacific the big musical extravaganza of the season. With timeless music by Richard Rodgers, haunting and poetic lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and two timeless love stories, it is the perfect invitation for an evening of great entertainment. Or is it?

South Pacific is the account of two parallel love stories set on a Pacific island against the lurid backdrop of World War II. We are introduced to the dashing French plantation owner Emile de Becque (John Herrera) and nurse Nellie Forebush (Heidi Warfel). Nellie receives a proposal from Emile to marry him. She accepts at first, but then discovers he had fathered two children with a now-deceased Polynesian woman and refuses his proposal. At the same time, an American lieutenant, Joe Cable, arrives to create a plan to spy on suspicious Japanese activities. He falls in love with the exotic Liat (Fawn Marks), a young Polynesian girl, but becomes torn between his growing feelings for her and his duty to serve his country and breaks off their romance. Because of De Becque’s familiarity with the islands, he is asked by the American troops to help Cable with the spy mission. This causes Nellie to re-examine her feelings for the man she has rejected out of childhood prejudices, and brings uncertainty to the audience as to whether they will see each other again. War is inevitable, and the worst is yet to come.

A mixed bag is what the performances would be deemed in an otherwise impressive and technically great production. Heidi Warfel’s character of Nellie is probably the most difficult of the bunch. Warfel is excellent at conveying the antagonistic side of Nellie, using angry facial expressions of disgust and revulsion toward Emile when she learns of his previous interracial relationship. Warfel seems to understand that Nellie is from a small, unenlightened American town where these relationships aren’t accepted, and this makes her facial expressions all the more effective. However, she lacks confidence while singing the duet “Some Enchanted Evening” with John Herrera, possibly because she’s intimidated by the presence of a seasoned professional. She seems to be stiff and nervous, and the palpable chemistry she shares with Herrera during dialogue scenes disappears when the time comes to sing.

Herrera is likeable and warm as Emile, but seems to lack prowess as a romantic interest to Nellie. His speech and body language only characterize his fatherly tendencies. It is clear he wants to take care of Nellie, but his portrayal leans more toward wanting to be a protective father figure than a romantic older lover.

Danny Suarez’s portrayal of Lt. Joe Cable tends to be one of the weaker characterizations in the production. He does well using facial expressions of valor in voicing the pride he feels for his country. However, Suarez is weak in establishing romantic interest towards Liat in their scenes. He shows no signs of being infatuated and swept away by this exotic creature because he doesn’t give a hint of confidence in vocal or body expressions during his love scenes with Fawn Marks. Rather, he brings to mind a confused and shy schoolboy who has never been intimate with anyone.

Andy Quiroga’s Luther Billis provides comic relief and an arrogance that brings to mind Stanley Holloway’s portrayal of Alfred Doolittle in the film My Fair Lady. Swaggering and showing off his tattoos and pecs, he is perfect casting as the raucous sailor.

Despite the shortcomings of the casting, there are technical achievements that are to be marveled at. Richard Gamble has done a fairly impressive job of directing a musical ensemble that sparks a delightful playfulness and chemistry when they are singing and dancing together. This is especially noteworthy in the zany “There is nothing like a Dame” number, and the giddy, infectious “Honey Bun” sequence with Quiroga donning a hula-skirt and dancing with Warfel, who is dressed in a sailor suit.

The moody lighting design of Thomas M. Shorrock wonderfully transports the audience to a world of paradise and lost hope. He uses bright colors to paint a land of paradise and desire, then quickly shifts to moody dark blues to reflect a place disillusioned by war and prejudice.

Overall, South Pacific is good theatrical entertainment, despite some questionable casting choices. Great lighting and an ensemble sparkling with giddy chemistry are certainly the highlights of this uneven, yet valiantly directed musical.

South Pacific is currently playing at FAU’S University Theater, at the Schmidt College of Arts and Letters Building on June 27-29 and on July 4-5, 10-13, and 18-19.

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