Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

South Pacific
Olney Theatre Center
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule (updated)

Also see Susan's review of Shakespeare's Macbeth

Jessica Lauren Ball and
William Michals

Photo by Stan Barouh
As the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical approaches the 70th anniversary of its premiere, the Olney Theatre Center production of South Pacific demonstrates that Richard Rodgers' timeless music, Oscar Hammerstein II's tender and incisive lyrics, and Hammerstein and Joshua Logan's book are strong enough to keep the work involving even under less than ideal circumstances.

The main disadvantage of this production is its limited scale: conductor/pianist Christopher Youstra is working with only eight musicians, compared to the full 40-piece orchestra in the 2008 Lincoln Center revival and its subsequent tour. Paige Hathaway's scenic design is spare rather than lush, but it adds interest by incorporating indigenous artistic techniques: the show curtain is made up of stylized images of airplanes and warships, along with Polynesian-inspired images, bordered by bamboo stalks.

Director Alan Muraoka has taken a lot of care with the characterizations, specifically the delicate handling of Nellie Forbush (Jessica Lauren Ball) as she realizes she's carrying more racial baggage from home than she thinks. She's fascinated by the different people she meets as a Navy nurse stationed on a Pacific island, she falls in love with the wealthy expatriate Emile de Becque (William Michals), but when Emile introduces her to the two children he fathered with a Polynesian woman, now dead, Nellie discovers prejudices she didn't know she had.

Michals, who also played Emile (as an understudy) in the Lincoln Center production, has the dreamy, melting voice for "Some Enchanted Evening" and "This Nearly Was Mine." Ball has both the buoyancy and the gravity needed for Nellie, and she sparkles when she performs Darren Lee's choreography. Cheryl J. Campo gives Bloody Mary a warm heart alongside her ambition and David Schlumpf is a delightfully scruffy Luther Billis.

This production also offers a passionate portrayal of the love that blossoms between upper-class Lt. Joseph Cable (Alex Prakken) and the sheltered Tonkinese girl Liat (Alexandra Palting). Muraoka allows the lovers to be playful and enraptured until Cable realizes that his proper Philadelphia family would never accept Liat. (That's where the still powerful song "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" comes in.)

Olney Theatre Center
South Pacific
August 30th - October 7th, 2018
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan
Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener
Ensign Nellie Forbush: Jessica Lauren Ball
Emile de Becque: William Michals
Ngana, his daughter: Daniela L. Martinez or Eliza Prymak
Jerome, his son: Nathan Pham or Hudson Prymak
Henry: Jay Frisby
Bloody Mary: Cheryl J. Campo
Liat, her daughter: Alexandra Palting
Luther Billis: David Schlumpf
Lt. Joseph Cable, U.S. Marine Corps: Alex Prakken
Capt. George Brackett, U.S. Navy: Stephen F. Schmidt
Cmdr. William Harbison, U.S. Navy: Michael Bunce
Lt. Buzz Adams: Calvin Malone
Yeoman Herbert Quale, Sailor: David Landstrom
Radio Operator Bob McCaffrey: David Landstrom
Durwood Alfonzo Mefford, Sailor: Calvin Malone
Wayne Frederick, Sailor: Ryan Burke
William D. Shearn, Sailor: David Landstrom
James T. Jackson, Seabee: Jay Frisby
Professor: Calvin McCullough
Stewpot (Carpenter's Mate Second Class George Watts): Chris Rudy
Joseph Tierney, Marine: Kurt Boehm
Marine Staff Sgt. Thomas Hassinger: Calvin Malone
Lt. Eustis Carmichael, Shore Patrolman: Kurt Boehm
Lt. Sue Yaeger, Lead Nurse: Jessica Bennett
Ensign Dinah Murphy: Megan Tatum
Ensign Janet MacGregor: Christina Kidd
Ensign Cora MacRae: Amanda Kaplan
Swings: Tiziano D'Affuso, Teresa Danskey
Directed by Alan Muraoka
Choreographer: Darren Lee
Music director: Kristen Lee Rosenfeld
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road
Olney, MD
Ticket Information: 301-924-3400 or