A cherished chestnut of American musical theater, “South Pacific” became the ideal vehicle to open a cherished chestnut of Brevard community theater — Cocoa Village Playhouse.
Indeed, after a 90-day hiatus, the busy Cocoa Village Playhouse reopened last night and showed off new grand chandeliers, new seats, a new ceiling, some faux box, extended orchestra pit and a huge new grand balcony. What you see is something akin to a real classic Broadway theater — except the seats, with their extra inches of padding, are much more comfortable than those in those old theaters on the Great White Way.
Following suit with all this newness, director, Anastacia Hawkins-Smith pays homage to the Lincoln Center’s 2008 revival of the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. With such little time to turn around a production in midst of all the theater renovation, Hawkins-Smith makes a wise choice to borrow heavily from the Tony Award winning direction of Barlett Sher and Tony Award winning scenic design by Michael Yeargan (although we’d like to see their names in the program).
Rodgers and Hammerstein based their musical on James Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific.” Set on a Navy base in Solomon Islands during World War II, it concerns a pair of lovers who are torn apart because of prejudice.
A top notch cast brings the story to vivid life. Michael Law delivers a powerful, rich portrayal of Emile de Becque, the Frenchman who has moved to the Solomon Islands. His “Some Enchanted Evening” will blow the socks right off you. Opposite him, Caroline Hinton is sweet voiced and pert and adorable as Nellie Forbush, the lil’ gal from Little Rock who has to grow up to accept Emile’s first marriage to a Polynesian woman. She wins the audience over from the first note in “Cockeyed Optimist.”
There’s something wonderful about Joe Horton as Lt. Joseph Cable. His lyrical voice brings a velvety, youthful quality to “Younger than Springtime.” It’s so good to see Wendy Bernier have such a substantial role like she has in Bloody Mary, the wheeler-dealer indigenous woman who can sell her own daughter as easily as a grass skirt.
Lawrence Mazza is a real standout as Luther Billis, the comic sailor who is an entrepreneur at heart. Mazza is funny, has great comic timing and such on stage ease. It’s clear he can go as far as he wants with his talent and skill.
Under the direction of conductor Kevin McNaughton, the 20 musicians…yes, 20…really get the score sailing. They treat the audience to the scope and depth of Rodgers’ score.
Hawkins-Smith and her team have created a miracle on the Cocoa Village Playhouse stage. As of Tuesday, the nearly 1,000 seats had not been installed into the house nor was there any electricity. On opening night, the director noted that one of her assistants was on the roof trying to make sure the air conditioning would not go out.
Despite the challenges, the Cocoa Village Playhouse has opened with a flourish. What a rarity to find such full-bodied productions, complete with exquisite voice, beautiful visuals and sumptuous orchestral work. “South Pacific” is a crowd-pleaser and the theater itself has become an even more dazzling jewel in Brevard County’s cultural arena.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “South Pacific” runs through Oct. 14. It performs 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at Cocoa Village Playhouse, 500 Brevard Ave., Cocoa. $18 to $26. Call 321-636-5050 or visit www.cocoavillageplayhouse.com.