Photo courtesy of Jeff Greenberg

Musical addresses a taboo topic

5 mins read
Photo courtesy of Jeff Greenberg
Photo courtesy of Jeff Greenberg

Queens College students, guest artists and a 30-piece orchestra brought Goldstein Theatre to life on Nov. 7 with a production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.”

The musical was presented by the QC theatre department and directed by theatre professor Charles Repole.

The story is based on James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 book “Tales of the South Pacific,” combining elements of several of the stories that can be found in the tale.

The original Broadway production of “South Pacific” was very successful at the box office and was the second longest running Broadway musical after its debut in 1949.

The musical hit featured Ezio Pinza and Marty Martin as the leads and focused on themes about love, forgiveness and prejudice.

Set during World War II on a South Pacific Island where Nellie Forbush, a nurse who is played by guest artist Siri Howard, falls head over heels in love with a middle-aged expatriate French plantation owner named Emile De Beque, who is played by another guest artist, George Dvorsky.

U.S. Lt. Joseph Cable’s love interest Liat, a young Tonkinese woman who is played by Elaine Baez, 25, parallels this budding romance.

Cable, who is played by Michael Verre, 22, senior, is faced with two options: he can either marry his Asian sweetheart and deal with the social implications of his actions or refuse to marry her, which he does.

Similarly, Forbush has convinced herself that she is no longer in love with a “wonderful guy,” when she finds out he has mixed-race children. She tries to convince the audience she is done with Emile through song, with the musical number, “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair.”

Unlike Lt. Cable, Forbush chooses not to be prejudice. Instead, she pursues a relationship with Emile and comes to love his children.

“South Pacific” candidly explores issues of racial prejudice through both leading couples.

“Race played a big role in how the characters treated each other,” said junior Jonathan Buissereth, who watched the play on opening night, said.

“The two lead American characters, Forbush and Cable, are pitted against a small-minded, old-fashioned ideology,” said Kevin Schwab, who played cross-dressing rambunctious, capitalistic officer, Luther Billis and provides much of the comic relief throughout the show.

“Cable is willing to sacrifice his life for the island of people in the South Pacific after singing, ‘You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,’ which is a song that explains [how] our old-fashioned ways are wrong and we are taught hatred and bigotry at a young age,” Schwab, an adjunct professor in the drama department said.

Other performers in the play were also impressed with the way the musical mentioned prejudice.

“’You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,’ explains that prejudice is engrained in us by past generations and society and that is the way stereotypes are perpetuated. Even though this is an older musical many of the themes are still relevant today,” Verre said.

Aside from the musical’s clear message, he also enjoyed working alongside highly experienced performers.

“I learned a tremendous amount from simply watching them and talking to them about their approach to this kind of musical,” Verre said.

He wasn’t the only cast member who appreciated the diverse cast.

“It was encouraging working with a variety of ages and level of skill and talent,” Baez said.

Through the joint effort of faculty as well as students, actors and actresses were able to showcase their abilities while leaving the audience with a powerful message.

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