Maine may not have the “infinite specks of coral,” “coconut palms waving gracefully toward the ocean,” and the “inner lagoons, lovely beyond description” that James Michener reminisced about in his novel “Tales of the South Pacific,” but Mother Nature was doing her best Friday to make theatergoers believe that the Ogunquit Playhouse was located in the South Pacific, rather than in Maine.

There was a sultry quality to the evening air as patrons lounged on benches outside the playhouse, sipping chilled beverages while waiting for the house doors to open and the journey to the South Pacific to get under way.

As the curtain opened on a silhouetted beach scene, the backdrop became translucent as if the sun were dawning on the horizon.

A window appeared, revealing the orchestra, conducted by Ken Clifton, playing the well-known overture of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.” Then, the full set glided into place, obscuring the ever-present, but once again unseen, musicians.

Ogunquit’s “South Pacific,” directed by Shaun Kerrison, has all the trademark, memorable songs from the classic musical, but offers a fresh approach, with a new rendition based on the 2008 Tony Award-winning Lincoln Center Theater production. The result is a thoroughly entertaining, summer sizzler.

Although the sets are effective and clever, with a fully functioning shower at Billis’ Bath Club and blinds that are mesmerizing to watch as they unfold from above, it’s ultimately the stunning cast and energized choreography that make this production stand out.

Ogunquit has cast renowned opera singer Branch Fields as Emile deBecque. Branch made his Broadway debut in 2008 as the understudy for the role in the Lincoln Center Theater production and, interestingly, studied voice in graduate school with Giorgio Tozzi, whose vocals were dubbed for Rossano Brazzi in the 1958 movie of “South Pacific.”

Branch is hypnotic in the role, with a commanding magnetism and a resonating bass vocal that is not only powerful and versatile, but as rich, smooth and delectable as the finest, most perfectly aged bottle of Scotch. When he sang “Some Enchanted Evening” on Friday, there truly was a spellbinding magic in the night air.

Jennie Sophia reprises her role of Ensign Nellie Forbush from the National Tour. She brings vitality and songbird-like vocals on such beloved songs as “A Cockeyed Optimist,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” “A Wonderful Guy” and “Honey Bun.”

Or course, “South Pacific” wouldn’t be complete without the ill-fated love story of U.S. Marine Lt. Joseph Cable (Christopher Johnstone) and Bloody Mary’s (Christine Toy Johnson) young Tonkinese daughter, Liat (Hsin-Yu Liao).

The chiseled Johnstone’s melodious tenor vocals harmonize captivatingly with Sophia’s soprano on “My Girl Back Home” and lend a magnificent contrast with Fields’ bass on “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.”

The petite Liao, a dance major originally from Taiwan, was the epitome of grace Friday as her character attempted to woo Cable through dance in the second act.

Ben Crawford (Luther Billis), Joe Coots (Stewpot) and Anthony Christian Daniel (Professor) provide a surefire source of comic relief as the musical’s enterprising Seabees.

With a large cast of 30 members, the production requires precision and clockwork timing. Ogunquit succeeds, making the set changes and complex choreography look easy. The second scene in the first act, in particular, is an unforgettable marvel of suburb choreography not to be missed.

Travel to the South Pacific with Ogunquit’s gifted cast and fall in love with all the charms it has to offer.

April Boyle is a free-lance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

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