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THEATER REVIEW: Moonlight’s “South Pacific”

The idea of going to Bali Ha’i sounds pretty good right now. But if you, like me, lack time or means for the trip, you can always do the next best thing: get there with the cast and audience of the great old classic musical “South Pacific,” playing through July 13 at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista.

The 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical gets a sparkling production, thanks to a fine cast, excellent direction, and a terrific 28-member orchestra. They also have the best sets and costumes I’ve seen at Moonlight, borrowed from the multiple Tony-winning 2008 Lincoln Center revival of the show.

This production sets the mood with a scrim on which Michener’s first few lines are written, so you can settle into the location while listening to the familiar strains of the overture:

“I wish I could tell you about the South Pacific. The way it actually was. The endless ocean. The infinite specks of coral we called islands. Coconut palms nodding gracefully toward the ocean. Reefs upon which waves broke into spray, and inner lagoons, lovely beyond description. I wish I could tell you about the sweating jungle, the full moon rising behind the volcanoes, and the waiting. The waiting. The timeless, repetitive waiting....

There’s no way to resist this show, with its cast of Seabees and Navy nurses on those faraway islands, where exotic local girls beckon and the hilarious but decidedly unexotic Bloody Mary (Brenda Oen) chews betel nuts and sells shrunken heads, beads and grass skirts for “saxy girlfriends” back home.

Playing her Seabee counterpart is wheeler-dealer Luther Billis (Jason W. Webb), who wants to get over to Bali Ha’i (where those local girls are) but needs to find a willing officer accomplice in order to requisition a boat there.

The show stands or falls on its cast, and Director Steven Glaudini (new artistic director of Moonlight Productions) is blessed with a great group.

SDSU grad Hilary Maiberger plays Ensign Nellie Forbush, the charming “little hick” nurse from Little Rock, who will steal the heart of sophisticated French planter Emile de Becque (Randall Dodge, playing the role for the second time this season), whose adorable children Ngana (Sophia Aujero) and Jerome (Ace Young) by a local Polynesian woman will bring up the sad racism of the time and threaten to derail the romance.

Maiberger is a fine actor with a terrific voice. She also has great chemistry with Dodge, who (as I keep saying) never disappoints and doesn’t here either, his beautiful baritone and spot-on acting carrying the part with seeming ease.

Webb (last season’s Perchik) plays Billis for all it’s worth and is particularly hilarious in the famous grass-skirted “Honey Bun” number.

Oen (who played Bloody Mary earlier this year) is fine again in the role, and plays well off both Billis and Lt. Joseph Cable (the excellent Danny Gurwin, last seen as Jean Valjean in the 2008 “Les Misérables”). Cable will fall in love with Bloody Mary’s lovely daughter Liat (April Abrazado), who sings, acts and dances beautifully.

Kudos also to musical director and conductor Elan McMahan and her boffo musicians, and to the sound and lighting designers (Chris Luessmann and Jean-Yves Tessier, respectively) for their effective work.

This show has it all, and so does this production. Great actor/singers, a good story, a score of one blockbuster song after another and some particularly fine choreography (by Carlos A. Mendoza) make this a must-see.

The details

“South Pacific” plays through July 13 at Moonlight Amphitheatre, 1200 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista.

Wednesday through Sunday at 8 pm.

Tickets: (760) 724-2110 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.