historical novelist, then transformed into one of the great works of theater
by Broadway’s master composer/lyricist team. From James Michener’s World War
II experiences came the vivid characters in Tales of the South Pacific To
this Pulitzer Prize winning story Rodgers & Hammerstein added one of the
most memorable scores ever written. This is a Greatest Generation story born
of the greatest literary and theatric talents of the last seventy years. Who
wouldn’t be drawn to it? But much like Bali Ha’I itself, the more time you
spend with it, the stronger the pull it exerts upon you. I loved the story
when I started. I’m completely under its spell now.
KEN: The challenge, of course, is that this an epic story told on a grand scale.
The opportunity is to breathe fresh life into the real people Michener
chronicled and shed the weight of history that can sometimes ossify these
characters. We’ve worked hard to deliver honest performances relatable to
the modern audience, that are absolutely true to the original work.
VCOS: Are there things you wish you could have done but were unable to?
(involving budget, space factors, etc.)
KEN: When Steven Spielberg directed Jaws the reason the shark didn’t appear until
most of the way through the movie is because, during principal photography,
the mechanical shark they had built was broken and unavailable most of the
time. Not seeing the shark became one of the key suspenseful aspects of the
film. Similarly, we always look for ways to turn our intimate setting to our
advantage. From the start, our set plans were extremely ambitious. Not all of
the original designs made it to the final production, but I am very proud
of the theater experience we deliver.
VCOS: Tell me about your cast and what you saw in each of the four leads that
made them stand out.
KEN: I was fortunate to have such a talented group of singers and actors with
which to work. These are complex characters with plenty of conflicting
emotions. Elizabeth Kelly brings to Nellie a sparkling soprano and a genuine
cockeyed optimism that perfectly sets-up the audience for her character’s
unexpected collision with its own prejudice. Alex Britton is a powerful
baritone with major opera credits in both L.A. and Europe. From the start we
worked on bringing strength to the character of Emile de Becque who is all
too often played as a Fop. Ryan Driscoll is a gifted tenor who delivers
every note of Richard Rodgers’ soaring score, but also captures the tortured
soul of Lt. Cable. Kelly Green is a local theater veteran who brings his
many comedic talents to Luther Billis, but hits his emotional marks just as
VCOS: Rodgers and Hammerstein took a risk in dealing with the sensitive topic
of racism in this show. Do you think it has held up well over time?
KEN: It is remarkable that in 1949, Oscar Hammerstein took racism head-on with the lyric,
“You’ve got to be taught to be afraid / of people whose eyes are oddly
made /You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late / before you are six or
seven or eight.” It is a modern deception to believe that humanity has
evolved beyond such intolerance. This ignorance and fear lives in the dark
recesses of every generation.
VCOS: How does the inclusion of “My Girl Back Home” help define the character
of Lieutenant Cable?
EN: To me, the character of Lt. Joseph Cable could be a stand in for JFK. Here is
a Princeton graduate, who has already served with distinction at Guadalcanal.
He has a partnership in a law firm waiting for him after the war.
It’s not hard to imagine a place in the Senate for him and perhaps even
a run at the White House. Cable is thunderstruck by his feelings for the
local island beauty Liat. The song “My Girl Back Home,” while not included
in the show until the 2008 Broadway revival, is where we hear what Cable’s
dilemma is; what it is he’s giving up if he chooses to stay and marry Liat.
VCOS: Why do you think that South Pacific is not staged as often as some of
the other R&H mainstays, like The Sound of Music, The King and I, and
KEN: I have absolutely no idea. “Some Enchanted Evening” is one of the greatest
songs ever written, and it is surrounded by a score that is one of the
most memorable. The show’s message on racial tolerance is as
relevant as anything written before or since. And then there are the
unforgettable characters. We are delighted to bring it back to Ventura County.