RODGERS and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” was way ahead of its time when it first hit Broadway in 1949.
The show was an instant hit, packed with numbers such as “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair”, “Bali Ha’i” and, most famously, “Some Enchanted Evening”.
But it was also saying some tough things about racism that packs just as powerful a punch in 2017 as when the show first opened.
Janet Tweedie, director of the Queanbeyan Players’ production that’s about to appear at The Q, is especially proud of that.
Ellen Scott, who has performed around the local traps since taking a role in Free Rain’s “Singin’ in the Rain” in 2010, plays the central role of Nellie. This is a big role for her and one she’ll partly share with understudy Alyce King.
Scott knows that some audience members will dismiss Nellie as a racist cow from Little Rock, Arkansas and, as she says: “I’ve said that myself, and also, gosh, I can’t believe I’m saying that” whenever Nellie expresses herself on the subject of coloured people.
“Yes, it’s so politically incorrect, this role is important, especially when she’s being blunt,” she says.
Her opposite number, Michael Moore, playing Emile De Becque, suggests that by modern-day standards his character’s preparedness to go off on a suicide mission because he’s lost Nellie seems plain irresponsible.
Not to worry, he gets to sing two of the great showstoppers of all time, the aforementioned “Some Enchanted Evening” and Moore’s favourite “This Nearly was Mine”, a multi-layered song encompassing bitterness and longing.
And, yes, he and Scott agree, Emile is way too old for Nellie, another bit of incorrectness, but one that can be excused by standards of the era.
The pair explain how Nellie wants to be sophisticated and intelligent, while Emile wants someone innocent and fresh.
Tina Robinson plays Bloody Mary. Her last big role was Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady”, also directed by Tweedie, but this time she is cast against type and ethnicity.
“I had to get the accent perfect,” she says, explaining that she went to the Glenn Close/Harry Connick movie to study the Vietnamese actor who played the role there.
Robinson is normally a jazz singer and when asked by Tweedie to do the role in the lower register of Sarah Vaughan, she went for it.
“It’s become a dream role, it wasn’t at first,” she says.
Tweedie takes a break from rehearsals at the Queanbeyan Uniting Church Hall to explain the extraordinary complexity of “South Pacific.”
“It’s really complex, there’s a lot of busy-ness and it took me three days to work out the rehearsal schedule,” she says.
As if that weren’t enough, cast members were performing in “The Addams Family”, “Chicago”, “Les Mis” and “Die Fledermaus”. As well, she needed a good line-up of singing, dancing males.
It’s a very different show from her “My Fair Lady” but Tweedie is working with the same team, which includes her set-designer husband Roger Timewell.
“I chose the show because I’ve always loved the music and my daughter Jenna grew up with it,” she says.
“South Pacific”, at The Q – Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, June 2-11. Bookings to theq.net.au or 6285 6290.