Dellie captured Nellie, and “South Pacific” was terrific.
Laura “Dellie” Saxe – in her first, local starring role – delivered a rambunctious performance as Nellie Forbush that was layered with perky pathos. She, and the rest of the cast, earned a standing ovation Friday from a sold-out crowd at Savannah Center.
The Villages Musical Theater production of the famed Rodgers and Hammerstein World War II musical was a showcase for new VMT performers, many with professional stage experience. It runs through Sunday.
The show, directed by Sandie Hawthorne, featured impressive efforts by Richard Barth as Emile de Becque; Brynn Neal as Bloody Mary and Dave Newell as Lt. Joe Cable. Dave Saxe, Dellie’s husband, played comic foil Luther Billis.
Dellie’s Nellie was bubbling with new-found love while battling her own lingering prejudice. She, in a way, is a symbol for the complicated social issues in the musical. Ultimately, “South Pacific” is about coping with war, serving your country and meeting moral challenges.
Despite the dark undertones, “South Pacific,” based on a novel by James A. Michener and stage book by Joshua Logan – is a lot of fun, and so was Saxe. She pranced and danced like a water-soaked gymnast while singing “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair.” Saxe was downright giddy on “A Wonderful Guy.” And she jitterbugged around the stage in an overgrown sailor suit on “Honey Bun.”
But there is another side to Nellie.
Saxe was able to convey the conflicting emotions of a young women falling in love with an older man, while caught up in war’s insanity. She’s ready to marry de Becque (Barth) until she finds out the widower has two, mixed-race children.
Nellie’s from Little Rock, and her mother wants her to stick with her own kind. Saxe offered one of the most heart-wrenching moments of the musical late in the show with a tearful rendition of “Some Enchanted Evening.”
Richard Barth displayed a convincing French accent and booming baritone. He played the role of reluctant war hero and lonely man with moral sophistication and a sense of purpose
Barth won over Nellie, as well as the audience, singing “Some Enchanted Evening” early on. But Barth really hit his stride with a powerfully emotional “This Nearly Was Mine” in Act 2.
Brynn Neal’s Bloody Mary is wildly outrageous but, also, surprisingly sympathetic. Mary is a hustler and wants to grab Lt. Cable, (Newell), to marry her daughter.
Neal sings “Bali Ha’I,” and vocally creates an idyllic landscape that serves not only as a refuge from war, but also loneliness. Cable (Newell) is ready to find happiness there and falls for Mary’s daughter, Liat, played by Yuri Sohn.
But Cable can’t bring himself to marry outside his own race.
Newell exhibits a melancholy cool – and personal resignation – while singing “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.” It is an outspoken critique of racial prejudice and was revolutionary in 1949 when “South Pacific” debuted on Broadway.
Dave Saxe gives this production its comic juice as Luther Billis. Saxe was percolating throughout – running, dancing and jumping around while baring his chest at every opportunity. His endless energy and goofy antics eased the tension and kept things moving.
The cast featured more than 40 performers, including a couple of students from The Villages Charter School, Camryn Waters and Mason Mills.
Among the Villagers: Bob Brandoni as Stewpot; Tony Oteri as Capt. Brackett; Larry Wilson as Cmdr. Harbison; Charlotte Mattsson as Bloody Mary’s helper; and Bob Petrucelli as Tom O’Brien.
Also: Ann Stockton as the lead nurse; Carol Putrelo as Ensign Murphy; Mark McCandless as Lt. Adams; Ed Griggs as Emile’s servant; and Bobbie Steele-Marotta as Ensign MacGregor.
“South Pacific” was choreographed by Helene Yelverton. Jean Butler conducted a 22-piece orchestra, which added to the musical majesty of the show.
Tony Violanti is an award-winning journalist and writes for Villages-News.com.