At the beginning of the Omaha Symphony’s “South Pacific” on Saturday, Principal Pops Conductor Ernest Richardson explained that we were about to hear a hybrid combining elements of a full-scale musical and a concert.
The symphony should cultivate this hybrid with different musical crops each year because this experiment yielded a bounty.
It had a few costumes, even fewer props and no sets, but it was expansive, expressive and just plain wonderful.
When you devote much of the stage to a full orchestra, it allows musical theater fans to experience the score as it is rarely heard. Orchestra pits or backstage areas don’t have a lot of room, so community theater productions often don’t have a lot of musicians. Ideally, music by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein deserves so much more, and the Omaha Symphony’s players delivered it with fervor and feeling.
The concert was a collaboration between the symphony and Musical Theatre Wichita, which trains artists for professional careers. Many MTW alumni go on to Broadway shows. The theater provided the lead actors in the musical, but a number of Omahans were also onstage.
Most people are familiar with the story, based on a book by James Michener. A Navy nurse, stationed on a South Pacific island during World War II, falls in love with a French planter and agrees to marry him. After she meets his children, who have a Polynesian mother, she backs out. Raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, she can’t get past his relationship with a woman of color. A similar storyline involves Lt. Joe Cable, an officer from Philadelphia. The amazing score includes such favorites as “Some Enchanted Evening,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” and “Younger Than Springtime.”
The training available at MTW is apparent in its actors. Anne Horak as Nurse Nellie Forbush, Jeffrey Coon as planter Emile de Becque, Hazel Anne Raymundo as Bloody Mary and Jacob David Smith as Cable all have sensational voices and delivered credible depictions of their characters.
And the Omahans held their own. First-time actor Nadia Maudhoo, a New York University senior who has a bright future as a classical violinist, was shy, demure and natural as Liat, Cable’s love interest and Bloody Mary’s daughter. Jack Zerbe and Vincent Carlson were fine in non-singing roles as naval officers, and youngsters Claire Graham Baijnauth and Brodhi McClymont were adorable as de Becque’s children. They engagingly sang a song in flawless French.
Members of the Omaha vocal ensemble Résonance were the glue that held the scenes together as an ensemble of Seabees and nurses. They were funny and boisterous, and their harmonies were wonderful.
Despite a lack of scenery and trims to the script, this production had a lot of heart and energy. Richardson even got into the act, at one point singing the low bass part in “There Is Nothing Like a Dame.”
As you may expect when rehearsal time is precious, the performers and orchestra had a couple of gaffes, but they skillfully recovered.
I would love to see more collaborations between MTW and the Omaha Symphony. The possibilities for musicals are nearly endless — they could start with other Rodgers and Hammerstein titles and move on to different composers and lyricists.
How about a hybrid concert each year? If audience appreciation for “South Pacific” was any indication, that would be a hit.
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