November 5, 2014
Lisa Yellin and Kenney DeCamp
The Old Musical that’s Now New
South Pacific again? Our original thought was, “why would we want to go see Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific at the Asolo Theater. Wasn’t that a musical that high schools now produce? Why in the world was the Asolo staging this show?” However, after attending an Asolo Repertory Theater Guild meeting to get acquainted with Director Rob Ruggiero and Music Director William Waldrop and listen to them discuss why they were involved in this production, we are now very excited to buy our tickets for this revised production.
Mr. Ruggiero shared that this is his third time in 1 1/2 years producing South Pacific – and that this time with new orchestration, new sets, new costumes, and a smaller cast and musicians he said, “This is how I dreamed of the show when I started to do the show way back when.” He explained that this production is really about a close-knit group that gets to know each other as individuals. The characters and scenes focus on the central relationships. And although there are fewer characters than in the original script (17 adults and 2 children rather than the usual more than 30), you come away feeling like it’s a full group. As a matter of fact “the show feels like it’s under a microscope – focused in – no long shots – only close-ups.” He explained that when you watch the cast sing “Wash that Man” he hopes that you feel like you are among friends talking about life – individuals talking together – it’s much more personal, much more intimate.
With the permission of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Estate, Ruggiero and Waldrop were able to create a new production that honors and stays true to the original orchestration. However, this orchestration is distinctive – it is 8 musicians rather than a full orchestra and yet you don’t miss all the other musicians – the score is as thrilling as it was with the 36. “Each musician is a soloist. It’s like listening to chamber music; each musician is another character in the musical and parallels what’s going on with the actors” Waldrop explained.
South Pacific is a powerful musical about war and how it affects people; it brings up issues that have not gone away over the years. Rodgers and Hammerstein tell a story that hopefully gets the audience to talk about the issues – and perhaps result in a revelation and/or understanding of these issues. Much like the song “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” they hope that the audience, like the characters, experience a moment of self-discovery. Even if you have seen South Pacific before, this is a musical production not to be missed; it is more intimate and more personal. It strives to tell the story with new eyes; the directors have made choices that perhaps reveal things not looked at before.
Please note, the Asolo has created a new event – “The Scoop” whereby an hour before each performance one of the members of the cast will spend about 20 minutes talking about the production and share their experiences. If “The Scoop” is anything like the Theater Guild presentation we attended it is well worthwhile planning to come to the theater early. We certainly learned a lot more about the story and the interpretation than we expected. And, nothing pretentious, we really liked those two talented men.