Beef & Boards actors delight in ‘South Pacific’

What more can be written about Rogers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific?” This Pulitzer-prize winning musical about men and women on a tiny island during World War II has been done to death by every high school and amateur theatrical company from coast to coast. Can this venerable production be refitted to make these classic songs that are so much a part of the American musical theater DNA shine anew?

Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre says yes.

Through the more than capable singing and dancing of a seasoned troupe of musical professionals, Beef & Boards strives mightily to provide the requisite visual and musical delights for an evening’s worth of get-a-way-from-it-all entertainment.

Central to this tale is a love story, in which one of the lovers is encumbered with the mores of a mid-20th century American upbringing.

Nellie Forbush falls in love with a Frenchman who has two Polynesian children. Deb Wims as Nellie Forbush was straight out of Arkansas, though not necessarily a fresh recruit. Her overblown southern accent was a bit distracting and at times, grating, and she came across as a somewhat older bloom than the breath of fresh air her counterpart, Robert Wilde (as Emile de Becque) sang about.

Although she drove home her performance with zest and economy, and the audience’s eye rarely strayed from her, it seemed at times as if Wims’ Forbush wasn’t so much a naïve small town nurse as an applause-seeking showgirl used to the spotlight.

On the other hand, Wilde’s portrayal of de Becque was everything it should be. He tempered his rich baritone and never let it overpower his partner in their duets. His portrayal of a man in love — more in love with Nellie than she was with him — and his loving interactions with his children were sincere and moving.

The grass skirt and shrunken head entrepreneur of the island, Bloody Mary, played by Cynthia Thomas, was surprisingly graceful cavorting around the stage. With some of the best dialogue and songs in the show, however, this reviewer would have rather seen her portrayed as a wise South Pacific sage rather than resorting to a sort of “natives as wayward children” characterization. Still, Thomas’ version of “Bali Hai” will hang hauntingly in the air over Beef & Boards for some time to come and “Happy Talk” was a delight.

Comic relief and the highlight of the production was provided by Jeff Stockberger as Luther Billis. He nabbed the limelight with regularity through a face straight off a rubber plantation and a loose-limbed body divinely assembled for slapstick. He heads up a group of hilariously mismatched rowdy Navy Seabees whose antics were barely contained on the stage.

With an economically arranged set and soft, evocative lighting, this production deftly delivers the ambiance of a south sea island to the audience (and it’s always surprising to see what Beef & Boards is able to accomplish on its small stage). Add the intimate seating arrangements and, of course, the diverse food offerings and efficient wait staff, and you have an evening you deserve to treat yourself to.

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Christine Schaefer is arts editor and editorial assistant at the Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3222 or cschaefer@greenfieldreporter.com.