Ocean of emotion: Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra brings ‘South Pacific’ to Nevada Theatre in Nevada City | TheUnion.com

Ocean of emotion: Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra brings ‘South Pacific’ to Nevada Theatre in Nevada City

Bloody Mary (played by Bernadette Garcia) is the mother of a Tonkinese girl (Michele Nesbit) with whom Lt. Joe Cable (Austin Nunn) falls in love. Can their love survive their cultural differences?
Photo by David Wong

For decades, audiences have been entertained and inspired by the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical “South Pacific.” Set on a tropical island during World War II, the musical portrays two separate love stories, each of which is being threatened by the dangers of war and prejudice.

Nevada County’s own Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra has taken on the famed production and will be presenting it to the community in the Nevada Theatre beginning Thursday.

On a mission

Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra Executive Director Jeannie Wood said that the choice to present “South Pacific” came relatively naturally, with some considerations. Continuously striving to promote cultural diversity through quality multicultural theater, events and workshops, they are careful in their selection of what productions to present.

“We always try to think of a story that fits our mission,” Wood said, “and even though there aren’t a lot of Asians in ‘South Pacific’ it is about prejudice; about fitting in and belonging, and love and war. It’s a story that is very timely.”

With each of the love stories in “South Pacific” being touched by prejudice — sassy nurse Nellie is threatened by the fact that her French amore Emile has children with a native islander, while Lt. Joe Cable hesitates to give his heart to a Tonkinese girl — the message presented by Rodgers & Hammerstein seems far ahead of its time.

Wood cites the production’s number “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” which contains the lyrics: “You have to be taught to hate and fear/It’s got to be drummed in your little ear … You’ve got to be taught to be afraid/Of people whose eyes are oddly made …”

“It seems timely because of what is going on in the world; it’s not really about immigration but about people of color, those who [may look] different,” said Wood.

According to Wood, audiences are enthusiastic about their production of “South Pacific,” especially those who are baby boomers or who hail from the golden era of Broadway musicals.

“The response has been incredible,” she said. “It’s kind of like during the holidays, you have ‘A Christmas Carol’ or the ‘Nutcracker;’ it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen it, you still go!”

In fact, the company is expecting a special group from far away.

“There’s a travel company in Michigan and they put together mystery tours; their destination is [secret],” Wood said. “They wanted 60 tickets [to ‘South Pacific’] on a particular day, and we will welcome them from Michigan with our curtain speech! They have no clue where they’re going.”

It takes a village

The members of Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra are proud of their production, and with good reason. The music will be provided by an eight member live orchestra, with co-directors and musical directors Jeff and Susan Mason having spent copious hours on details such as choreography and costumes — not to mention the royalties the company must pay in order to secure the original music and script.

“It’s a classic. People are so excited,” Wood said, before noting that several of the matinee performances are close to selling out. “Groups are coming out of the woodworks!”

Wood noted Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra consider themselves lucky, so far enjoying a successful 24 year run.

“It just keeps going that way; a lot of repeat business,” she said. “We have to continue to do a good job. Theatre is connecting people with life.

“We want them to love the show and to feel more connection with humanity; to feel that they have learned something and there was something compelling, and for them to connect at a deeper level with their own heritage and seek out their own ancestors.”

“South Pacific” will begin its run Thursday with a final dress rehearsal, and will continue through May 5.

Jennifer Nobles is a freelance writer for The Union and can be contacted at jenkrisnobles@gmail.com.

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