Elevating a Classic: A Fresh Take on ‘South Pacific’

Todd Hancock is used to staging professional-grade productions with his Easy Street Productions.

Still, he says, there is something different about the collaborations between Easy Street and the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra.

Tomorrow and Sunday, Easy Street and the YSO will again team up for the concert version of “South Pacific,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s landmark musical, at Powers Auditorium.

It’s a follow-up to February’s hit production of “Guys and Dolls,” which was the first time the two entities worked together. Like the first effort, “South Pacific” will feature professional actors in the lead roles, and Hancock as director.

“We’ve been doing this a long time and certainly in the past 30 years we’ve done many shows on this scale. But there does seem to be something special about bringing in Equity performers,” says Hancock, referring to members of Actors Equity Association, the stage actors union.

The same goes for the musicians.

“Having [YSO music director and conductor Randall Craig Fleischer] there, making sure the best of the best are there and these performers definitely makes it a step up the rung for us,” continues Hancock.

Fleischer says concert versions of musicals with timeless scores are a natural fit, noting that other orchestras have already embraced the format.

“What’s not to like?” says Fleischer. “We are in the business of presenting timeless art and the Great American Musical certainly fits right in.”

Playing the five main roles in “South Pacific” are Elysia Jordan as Nellie Forbush, Allan Snyder as Emile de Becque, David Toole as Lt. Joseph Cable, Karen Clark Green as Bloody Mary, and local community theater veteran John Cox as Luther Billis.

The company also includes 35 chorus members, 25 of whom are men.

Jordan, a Canfield native now living in New York, appeared in “Guys and Dolls,” along with Snyder.

Her credits include the original North American tour of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “School of Rock.”

When Jordan is not auditioning for Broadway roles, she instructs high school actors in preparing for college theater auditions.

She was excited to again work with Easy Street and the YSO.

“This format really does highlight the beauty of these classic scores, and it’s such a treat to hear them played by the symphony,” she says.“On Broadway, the band would normally be smaller, so to hear these famous scores played with so many musicians is really special.”

Although she’s never played Nellie “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair” Forbush, she’s having fun developing the role.

“I’ve always loved the music of ‘South Pacific’ and spent a lot of time listening to the beautiful revival album from Lincoln Center,” she says.

Hancock says the Easy Street-YSO collaborations are as close as Youngstown gets to a professional stock theater company. That includes the production values created by the technical crew.

“Powers is a union house and Forty Two Productions, which does the sound and light, are among the best in the business, and certainly in Youngstown,” says Hancock.

A concert version of a musical is a streamlined theatrical show with an emphasis on the music. Just like in “Guys and Dolls,” the YSO will be on stage, front and center, for the entire performance of “South Pacific.”

Some scenes will be shortened and the choreography and scenery is scaled back. As a result, the running time is much shorter than the full-blown musical; “South Pacific” will clock in at two hours, including an intermission.

Instead of set pieces and props, scenery is projected on screens behind the action. Two 11-by-22 foot screens were employed for “Guys and Dolls” – one on either side of the stage.

Those screens will be back for “South Pacific, but a third, directly behind the orchestra, will be added. “We will project big vistas on it, such as oceans, sunsets, the moon, to make it a full picture,” says Hancock.

Set on a tropical island during World War II, “South Pacific” follows two love stories that are threatened by prejudice and war. Servicewoman Nellie Forbush falls for Emile de Becque, a French expatriate and plantation owner, and U.S. Marines Lt. Joe Cable falls in love with beautiful islander Liat, the young daughter of souvenir merchant Bloody Mary.

As the war against Japan escalates, the two Americans struggle to reconcile their prejudices with their feelings of affection.

“South Pacific” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Powers Auditorium. Tickets range from $20 to $55 and can be purchased in advance at YoungstownSymphony.com, by phone at 330 744 0264 and at the DeYor Performing Arts Center box office, 260 W. Federal St., downtown.

Pictured at top: David Toole plays Lt. Joe Cable and Sabryna Johnson plays Liat in “South Pacific.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.