​La Comedia stages classic ‘South Pacific’

Tuneful World War II-era tale still resonates.

Bali Ha’i beckons once more as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic Tony Award-winning 1949 musical “South Pacific” continues through May 3 at La Comedia Dinner Theatre in Springboro.

Based on James Michener’s novel “Tales of the South Pacific” and one of only eight musicals to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, “South Pacific” chronicles love and prejudice during World War II. While stationed in the South Pacific, Nellie Forbush of Little Rock falls head over heels for Frenchman Emile de Becque, but is shocked to discover Emile fathered his children by a Polynesian woman. In a contrasting yet equally potent storyline, Joe Cable of Philadelphia becomes smitten with the lovely Liat, the Polynesian daughter of colorful saleswoman Bloody Mary who occasionally enjoys a little happy talk.

“ ‘South Pacific’ is timeless and still rings true 65 years after it was written,” said director Chris Beiser. “We still have racial lines drawn. People overseas still miss home. People still fall in love with those outside of their race. War particularly brings different people together, which is something we still deal with today.”

“This show reminds us love has no boundaries,” echoed Elizabeth Doyle who portrays Nellie. “Despite cultural and racial issues, Nellie comes to realize she loves Emile and it doesn’t matter what happened in his past. ‘South Pacific’ is such a great love story, but the weight of World War II is also very important and cannot be overlooked. There are so many important layers in the material.”

Doyle, who recently appeared in the New York regional premiere of the off-Broadway musical “Dogfight,” also has fond memories of her parents and grandparents introducing her to the fantastic score, which includes such gems as “Some Enchanted Evening,” “A Wonderful Guy,” “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame,” “Younger Than Springtime” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair.”

“There is nothing wrong with contemporary musicals, but ‘South Pacific’ simply takes us back to the roots of musical theater,” Beiser said. “Sometimes I think we’ve lost the feel of doing the standard (Golden Age) musicals, but the youthfulness and energy of this cast is impressive. It has brought back the energy of the time I was in ‘South Pacific’ in high school. This cast is approaching the show as if we were doing ‘Wicked’ or another newer musical.”

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Contact this contributing writer at rflorence2@gmail.com.