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South Pacific Comes to UMD

A Gritty, Realistic Take On The Familiar Musical

South Pacific
Gracie Anderson as Ensign Nellie Forbush and Dan Beckmann as Emile de Becque (Photo: Tom Benson)
Lt. Joe Cable and Liat
Steven Douglas as Lt. Joe Cable and Christina Case as Liat. (Photo: Tom Benson)
South Pacific poster
Poster for South Pacific

A Rodgers and Hammerstein classic is coming to UMD. South Pacific will be performed Oct. 20-30 at 7:30 pm (with a matinee at 2 pm on Oct. 24). Tickets are available through UMD School of Fine Arts tickets.

Considering that the theme of the musical is the lives of soldiers, those involved with South Pacific felt it would be right to honor veterans and servicemen throughout their performances. In the lobby, an exhibit honoring local veterans of the last 70 years (starting with WWII), put together with the assistance of local veterans organizations, military units, the Bong Museum in Superior, and the St. Louis County Historical Society, will be on display. Also, each night, tables of information about resource organizations will be available for returning vets.

The final dress rehearsal, Wed, Oct. 20, is a special event in itself. Veterans and their family members are invited to attend (especially veterans of WWII and the war in Korea). Beginning Oct. 21, each performance will be dedicated to one local military unit. One seat will be left empty as a symbol of a person who is serving overseas. A panel discussion on culture, led by Susana Pelayo Woodward of the UMD Multicultural Center, will be held after the performance on Wed. Oct. 27.

Although it is 61 years old, South Pacific features themes relevant to the world of today. “This play is about love and racism, as well as the cost of isolationism,” said Bill Payne, associate professor of Directing and Acting, who is directing South Pacific. “As a result of the U.S. being unwilling to participate in world politics pre-WWII, when we did deploy troops they were completely estranged to the world around them: they were in unknown territory, fighting an enemy they hardly understood.”

Because of these themes, Payne decided to take a very realistic approach. “This isn’t Broadway,” Payne said. “We are taking the approach of gritty realism. It’s a grounded, earthy, real, and from-the-gut acting style.” The way lines are delivered isn’t the only adaptation to be made: using cutting edge technology and an elaborate projector setup, actual color footage from World War II will be inserted into the show.

Prop master Topaz Cooks took the charge of gritty realism seriously. She recruited local veterans groups in order to procure authentic cargo equipment and backpacks. Some items, such as a microphone, she has had to make, mindful that they need to capture the look and feel of the period.

The themes and topic of the play resound with its cast. Some of those involved in the production have family members serving in the military or are veterans themselves. Amanda Speare, who portrays Dina Murphy, a nurse on the base, has veteran friends and family. Developing her character, she has explored the mentality of those serving overseas. "Any moment you are a target - what would it be like to live like that?" she wondered.

Jim Eischen, lighting designer and a veteran of the Iraq war, understands the soldier’s point of view well. “It’s very authentic,” Eischen said. “The sense of camaraderie, as well as the shipping out scene, they’re well done and bring back memories.” He believes this production of South Pacific will be very well received. “South Pacific is a well known musical; but with this version, they will see it in a way they never have before.”

One of Bill Payne’s favorite aspects in the show is the orchestra, especially its string section. A 30-piece orchestra, featuring 11 string instruments, will accompany the classic show tunes. “Strings just do something to your heart,” Payne said. Jim Eischen agrees that this production of South Pacific will be a great experience for the audience; “With the addition of the video footage and the unique directing style, it’s much more intimate; that’s what makes our production special.”

Written by Zach Lunderberg, edited by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann, kmcquill@d.umn.edu

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