Relating to timeless themes of ‘South Pacific’
For those familiar with Pete Flahive’s direction, it will come as no surprise that he has added humor to the Community Players production of “South Pacific,” which opens Friday in Grass Valley.
Set in World War II Polynesia and dealing with issues of race relations and self-discovery, the musical’s theme is anything but light-hearted.
Still, audience members can expect to see a “musical comedy with serious overtones,” the “South Pacific” director said.
“I like to add humor to anything I do,” Flahive said. “It loosens people up and helps them enjoy the show.”
Adapted from two stories in James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Tales of the South Pacific,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein production debuted on Broadway in 1949. As the second-longest-running musical of its decade, according to Broadway.com ,and starring big name performers such as Mary Martin and Ezio Penza, “South Pacific” has set high standards for Flahive’s cast.
“It’s always hard to star in a well-recognized show when everyone knows the music,” said Lindsey Robinson who plays Nellie Forbush, the show’s female lead. Robinson, who is a pediatric dentist in Grass Valley, last appeared as Marian in the Community Players and Lake Wildwood Little Theatre production of “The Music Man.”
“Everyone will be comparing me to Mary Martin. That’s a lot of pressure,” she said.
“South Pacific” is double-faceted, telling the story of two war-torn romances complicated by racial differences.
At the show’s climax, Joe Cable played by 16-year old James Borsky sings “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” after refusing to marry his lover because of her “inferior” Tonkinese heritage. Although Cable later regrets the decision, the song alludes to one of the play’s themes that racial prejudice is hardest to overcome when it is learned during childhood from family members and peers.
“The play’s theme is timeless,” Flahive said. “When Joe sings “Carefully Taught,” he’s saying that you’re not born feeling the way you do. Everyone is taught how to feel.”
Flahive is familiar with the play’s message having starred in “South Pacific” while attending the University of North Carolina in the early 1960s. Similar to the musical’s bold debut in 1949, University of North Carolina’s production also tested the public’s comfort with race-related issues because of its location in the South, Flahive said.
Although present-day viewers may be more comfortable with the story’s race-related theme, Robinson believes there are important parallels between the lives of the characters in “South Pacific” and those of Nevada County locals.
“Frankly, I don’t think people who’ve grown up here have much experience with people of color,” she said. “Look around you; this is the most Caucasian county in California.”
Retired veterans and Nevada County residents who lived through the World War II era can relate to the hardships the characters endured, Robinson said.
Whether the audience is able to identify with the show’s theme or characters, Flahive is certain “South Pacific” will be well-received.
“We’ve had a few people come to our rehearsals just to watch a few scenes and be so moved by what they see, they leave crying,” he said. “And, this is without costumes and stage sets.”
Prior to moving to the area, Flahive said, he worked in Hollywood on both the stage and television sets.
Flahive said he acted in a few “small-time” television shows and was even on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show.” Flahive also co-founded a nonprofit theater company in Hollywood called “The New Playwrights” which shows original works from local writers.
While this all-volunteer Community Players production won’t star any Hollywood-trained actors, Flahive said the cast of “South Pacific” is extremely talented.
“People going to see the show will be in store for a night of total enjoyment and a lot of laughs,” he said. “They’ll walk out afterward feeling good about life.”
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