By ESTHER YU
The cast of the Pioneer Theatre Company begins its showings of “South Pacific” tonight in celebration of the play’s 50th anniversary as an original Broadway production.
“It’s a wonderful piece — it should be done,” said the director, Pamela Berlin.
Based on James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of stories, “Tales of the South Pacific,” the play consists of several different plots and characters drawn from the book. However, there are two main romances that make up the central focus of the story.
The first story is of a French planter, Emile de Becque (Robert Peterson), and a young American nurse, Nellie Forbush (Leah Hocking), from Little Rock, Arkansas. Emile convinces Nellie of his love for her but when Nellie learns of his two Polynesian children, the prejudices and fears inherent to her small town causes her to run from the future they have planned.
The other is about an American marine officer, Lt. Joseph Cable (John Cudia) and a local island girl, Liat (played by Emily Yancy and Francine Wong who alternate with another character, Bloody Mary) who has her heart broken, according to background information from The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization.
The two stories are interlinked through the connection that the two men eventually have with each other. Lesser stories are also tied into the main plot.
“South Pacific” has won several awards, including nine Tony awards, one of which was for Best Musical, according to Suzanne Neddo, public relations for Pioneer Theatre Company.
The music is by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.
“One thing that really surprised me is that the book is so powerful,” Berlin said. “The music itself is obviously outstanding but the script itself is so moving, not only for entertainment value but it really brings out emotions and issues like bigotry.”
Berlin also said the piece was amazing because, though it was written for a certain time period, it fits right into contemporary time.
Berlin has directed several other productions, her most recent one being, “Of Mice and Men” at the Utah Opera.
Also, among cast members, Peterson has performed in 92 productions on Lees Main Stage, including two previous productions of South Pacific. Hocking is a New York actor and recently played Lucy in “Jekyl and Hyde” on Broadway. This is her first time acting for the Pioneer Theatre Company.
Like Hocking, Cudia is also a New York actor making his first appearance with the Pioneer Theatre Company. Yancy and Wong are also new to the theater.
Other Broadway credits include the starring roles of Aldonza/Dulcinea in “Man of La Mancha” with Richard Kiley and Keith Mitchell, and Leonard Bernstein’s and Alan Lerner’s “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Favorites to the theater include Richard Mathews playing Capt. George Brackett, U.S.N. and Max Robinson playing Cmdr. William Harbison. U.S.N. Equity actor Bill Cohen plays Lurther Billis.
The play runs until May 15 in the Roy W. and Elizabeth E. Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre. Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, and 2 p.m. for Saturday matinees. Ticket prices are $16 to $37, with discounts for groups of 20 or more. There are also $4 student rush tickets a half hour before each show. For tickets call (801) 581-6961. The theater is located at Broadway (300 South) and 1400 East in Salt Lake City.