“South Pacific” sailed smoothly

Smoky Mountain High School’s theater department presented the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific” at the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center at Western Carolina University from May 11 to May 13.

The production was colorful, exciting and family-friendly with many musical talents like senior Elena Cope, junior Galen Martin and a guest performance from Western Carolina’s Joseph Callahan.

The show sets sails during World War II on two islands in the Pacific. The play provides two beautiful love stories and comments on racism and war. Nellie Forbush is a navy nurse who falls in love with Frenchman Emile de Becque, a man hiding some secrets about his past. When Nellie discovers that Emile loved and had children with a Polynesian woman, her racist attitude hurts the relationship. Meanwhile, Lt. Joe Cable falls for a native islander’s daughter, Liat, and is torn between his commitment to the army and his love for her. Both Joe and Emile leave to act as spies to report on the movements of the Japanese army, and the women are left wondering if they will ever see their men again.

Linda Haggard, theater director and chorus teacher at Smoky Mountain High School, said she has wanted to produce “South Pacific” for all 10 years she has been a faculty member. This year, she had the right type of voices among her students for the musical.

“It’s about America being at war in World War II,” she said. “We’ve talked a lot about the importance of living in a free country and what that means and the sacrifices that men and women have made.”

Haggard continued to say that the “South Pacific” sets were her favorite in her 10 years, and that they provided a feeling of stepping off a boat onto the warm sands of a Pacific island.

The Bardo Arts Center was decorated in such a fashion with large palm trees swaying onstage over platforms painted to look like stone terraces and walls. Each were covered with dozens of pink, purple and red flowers. Circling the outside of the orchestra pit, a beach walkway with harbor posts and netting allowed the actors to come closer to the audience and take a stroll in the sand.

Joseph Callahan, choreographer of the production and WCU student, stood in for senior Nate Buchanan, who was playing for the SMHS baseball team. Callahan was an excellent example of what the students will one day become if they continue to pursue musical theater. Callahan’s voice was noticeably more mature and richer. He responded well to the other actors and had more control over not letting his eyes wander or his hands fidget.

However, there were outstanding and mature performances from a handful of actors from SMHS. Galen Martin as Emile de Becque was no exception. He maintained a believable French accent throughout the entire performance. While singing, his deep voice was romantic and soulful. His theme song that was reprised throughout the show, “Some Enchanted Evening,” filled the theater with the love and passion the message of the show carries. In “This Nearly was Mine,” Martin switched gears and provided a moving performance that could be felt all the way to the balcony.

Elena Cope performed as lead Nellie Forbush during some shows while junior Stephanie Londo reprised the role on the other nights. Cope performed on opening night and created a complex Nellie, whose vocals knocked down the house. Two such occasions were during her solos in “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa my Hair” and “Honey Bun.” Her voice was clear and mature, a mixture of raw talent and training. According to the show’s program, Cope will attend WCU in the fall 2012 semester as part of the musical theater program.

Senior Caleb Parham as Luther Billis stole the show as the tattooed Seabee who loves to charm women and cause mischief. Flawlessly staying in character, Parham provided comic relief that left audience members cackling hysterically and sang strong and clear in numbers like “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame.” He and his fellow Seabee cast mates had solid chemistry that conveyed well to the audience. It seemed as if the young men had always been navy men together, pulling pranks and flirting with the island women.

Smoky Mountain High School is unable to present shows at their own facilities because there is no performance space there. Instead, they partner with Western Carolina and pay $300 a day to use the Bardo Arts Center, according to Paul Lormand, director of the facilities.

Lormand added that he enjoys high school theater and that “a college presentation has a cast/crew that is a bit more sophisticated, more developed and has a better capacity. A high school presentation can, at times, be a bit more enthusiastic, passionate and energetic.”

Smoky Mountain High School’s theater students certainly have the enthusiasm, passion and energy, but they also have sophistication to pull off a large, classic show like “South Pacific.”