D’Astolfo: ‘South Pacific’ was an Enchanting Evening

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — With a title like “South Pacific,” you expect something big.

While Rogers & Hammerstein’s landmark musical takes place on a tiny and insignificant island, it’s a speck in the ocean that is momentarily in the crosshairs.

On Nov. 2 and 3, Easy Street and the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra collaborated to stage the concert version of “South Pacific.” It was as vast a production as you‘ll ever see on the Powers Auditorium stage.

The musical is a World War II tale of love, death, prejudice and bravery. War tends to ratchet up the pace of all four.

What we saw at Powers was a fast-moving show in a languid place – two hours, including intermission – that showcased Rogers & Hammerstein’s great score. 

It started when YSO conductor Randall Craig Fleischer walked to the podium wearing sharp Navy dress khakis and an officer’s hat. He gave a crisp salute to the audience and then led his 20-piece orchestra into the overture.

In the hands of Fleischer and director Todd Hancock of Easy Street, this “South Pacific” had the easy-going style of its tropical locale.

The three massive  backdrop screens on which the scenery was projected was often reset to silhouetted palm trees slowly waving in the breeze amid an evening sky ablaze in red, yellow and orange.

The fine cast included local theater veteran John Cox as Luther Billis, one of the sailors stationed on the island. Cox also played Nathan Detroit earlier this year in the concert version of Guys and Dolls” at Powers, and it is clear that he is a natural at playing this type: A hucksterish, street-level “businessman” who is cartoonishly slippery when it comes to getting in and out of trouble. Cox  brought the comic relief, and it will take a while to “unsee” him dancing in a grass skirt and coconut-shell bikini top in “Honey Bun.”

The star of this show was Elysia Jordan. A Canfield native who lives in New York where she’s a Broadway actress (“School of Rock” tour), Jordan was striking and superb.

“South Pacific” has a timeless score, but its script is showing its age.

Fortunately, it had Jordan and it was a delight to see her go back into the 1940s to inhabit the persona of Navy nurse Nellie Forbush. Feminine yet military, she brought so much wide-eyed optimism and zest for life to the role.

Hancock cast three more pros for the other main characters: Allan Snyder (Frenchman Emile de Becque), David Toole (Lt. Joe Cable) and Karen Clark Green (islander Bloody Mary). The group elevated this show to their rarified ranks and each could sing with magnetism. Snyder’s voice in “Some Enchanted Evening” brought chills.

Easy Street and the YSO now have two concert versions of classic musicals under their belt, and it seems like these are going to become a regular part of the rotation at Powers.

I salute them.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.