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Broadway at Duke brought Troika Entertainment, LLC's rousing National Tour of South Pacific back to North Carolina on April 2 for an utterly enchanting encore performance in Duke University's Page Auditorium. The show's striking tropical façade and atmospheric lighting scheme, created by set designer James Fouchard and lighting designer Jeff Crotier, not only brilliantly recreated the show's storybook setting in French Polynesia at the height of World War II; but it also better fit Page than Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, where this exuberant traveling version of South Pacific helped Broadway Series South patrons ring in the New Year Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.
Fouchard cleverly employs an arc of wooden lattices, interwoven with leafy palm trees, and an assortment of other colorful scenery to suggest the exotic faraway locales detailed by Tales of the South Pacific, James A. Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Michener's stories provided the plot for Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1949 message musical, whose (then) daring confrontation with, and ringing condemnation of, racial prejudice helped the show win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Director Dallett Norris not only set a brisk pace, but superbly orchestrated the show's complicated plot, which alternates the romantic roller-coaster of two troubled interracial relationships with episodes of kneeslapping comedy drawn from the hijinks of various U.S. Navy and Marine personnel, French planters, and native Polynesians.
Lighting designer Jeff Crotier skillfully simulated scorching tropical days and magnificent tropical sunsets, and costume designer Jeanette Rousseau smartly dressed the cast in a vivid array of mid-1940s military and civilian fashions and traditional Polynesian garb.
Musical director Tom Gallaher (piano), assistant musical director Angela Chan (synthesizer), Doug Miller (flute, clarinet), Paul Otway (trumpet), Kirill Kalmykov (cello), and Christian Dionne (drums, percussion) provided robust renditions of South Pacific's trademark tunes, which include "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," "There's Nothing Like a Dame," "Bali Ha'i," and "Some Enchanted Evening."
Peak Kwinarian and Lauren Shealy starred as handsome but mysterious middle-aged expatriate French planter Emile de Becque and young and beautiful U.S. Navy nurse and self-proclaimed cockeyed optimist Ensign Nellie Forbush. When Nellie, who calls herself a hick from Little Rock, Arkansas, finds out that Emile had two children with a now-dead Polynesian woman, their unlikely December-May romance nearly founders.
Likewise, when Marine Lt. Joseph Cable (Joseph Spieldenner) falls in love with a beautiful Polynesian girl, he balks at marrying Liat (Sumie Maeda), because of what his folks and friends back home in Philadelphia might say. Shame on him.
Kwinarian is a magnificent baritone, but his slight accent scrambles some of his line readings. Shealy is also a strong singer and a gifted comedienne. With her talent, the sky is the limit.
She and Kwinarian have great chemistry, and so do Joseph Spieldenner and Sumie Maeda. Spieldenner and Maeda make Cable's reluctant refusal to marry Liat even more heart-rending than usual.
Kelly Rucker was a scream as Liat's pushy mother, sharp-as-nails island trader Bloody Mary; and Seneca Burr tickled many a funnybone with his amusing antics as wheeler-dealer Seabee and aspiring entrepreneur Luther Billis, with whom Bloody Mary competes for dominance in the souvenir trade.
Jerry Carrier and Philip Peterson were good as gruff naval Capt. George Brackett and his right-hand man, Cmdr. William Harbison. And Dwan Attwood, Cian Coey, Bekah Nutt, and Vanessa Randazzo provided considerable comic relief as a curvy quartet of Navy nurses.