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South Pacific lead actress Leah Berry and lead ctor Michael Halling

South Pacific lead actress Leah Berry and lead actor Michael Halling  take a spin in a dance scene from South Pacific

An Enchanting Evening Awaits

Audiences of STAGES’ South Pacific

                 by Pat Lindsey

You don’t have to be a “cock-eyed optimist” to know that you’re in for an enchanting evening the moment the curtain opens on South Pacific at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in Kirkwood. From the very first scenes, the audience is captivated by the love story between Ensign Nellie Forbush, a self-proclaimed “little hick” from “Small Rock,” Arkansas and Emile de Becque, an older, debonair and more cultured French plantation owner. Even though they’ve only known each other for two weeks, romance has already blossomed between these unlikely lovers and the audience is swept away to their tropical island somewhere in the South Pacific during World War II.

The original 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical was based on the Pulitzer Prize winning book, Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener, and the storyline and music are as provocative today as they were then. The problems surrounding wartime love affairs, cultural differenes, and racial prejudice are intermingled into a spellbinding story. And the meaningful music, whether serious or frivolous, gets into your head and stays there.

St. Louis actress Leah Berry as Navy Nurse Nellie is undeniably the star of this show. She’s as cute as Mitzi Gaynor and equally as talented. The audience feels her every emotion as she sings, “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” and then later when she convincingly proclaims she’s in love with “A Wonderful Guy.” Nellie accepts Emile’s admission that he killed a man in France when he was much younger and has lived in exile on the island ever since, but she becomes distressed when she learns that her “wonderful guy” has two young children and their mother was Tonkinese. When she tries to explain her feelings to Emile, he refuses to believe that people are born with racial prejudice.

When Broadway actor, Michael Halling (Emile de Becque) sings “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine” in his beautiful baritone voice, the audience rewards him with thunderous applause. Halling, as Emile, is a believable Frenchman, but he could benefit from some gray hair to make him appear considerably older than Nellie.

A second love affair develops after Marine Lt. Joseph Cable lands at the naval base and meets island entrepreneur Bloody Mary, superbly portrayed by Joanne Javien, who lures him to her home on Bali Ha’i to meet her lovely daughter, Liat. Princeton-educated and Philadelphia-born Joe Cable has the same racial prejudices as Nellie Forbush, but those feelings aren’t strong enough to prevent him from falling for Liat on the island of forbidden love. They are strong enough, however, for him to tell Bloody Mary that he cannot marry Liat.

As emotional tensions mount for the star-crossed lovers, the Frenchman and the Lieutenant finally agree to go on a secret mission together on Marie Louise Island, a mission that could be the turning point in the war against Japan. It is while they are gone that Nellie sorts through her true feelings and decides that her love for Emile can surpass her disapproval of his previous marriage to a woman of another race.

       South Pacific has its fair share of comedy amidst the strife of war. Mark DiConzo as Luther Billis and his Seabees add levity and laughs every chance they get. Luther is as shrewd as Bloody Mary, but he also has a soft spot in his heart for Nellie. Their rendition of “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame” is a highlight of Act I. Luther (DiConzo) delights the audience again in Act II when he teams up with Nellie and the ensemble in “Honey Bun,” sung during the Thanksgiving Follies.

I can’t begin to count the times I’ve seen South Pacific on stage and film, but there is something very special about seeing it performed on a smaller stage in the intimate Rheim Theatre, where the sets are as lovely as any I’ve ever seen. It’s the closeness and connection to the actors that make the real love affair here one between the audience and the show. Seeing STAGES’ production was like seeing South Pacific for the first time and I’m in love with a wonderful show.

South Pacific will conclude STAGES’ 31st season on Oct. 8 For more information or   tickets, call 314-821-2407 or visit

Bloody Mary: One of the opening numbers of STAGES' South Pacific

Bloody Mary: One of the opening numbers of STAGES’ South Pacific








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