Jake Goz, Todd Lawson and Joe Capstick in “South Pacific,” playing at Maine State Music Theatre. Photo courtesy of Maine State Music Theatre

The locales visited in the classic musical “South Pacific” may not seem as exotic as they did when the show premiered in 1949.

Many people beyond service members have been there as tourists to experience the allure of palm trees and gentle breezes. But the great songs and social commentary of the periodically revived Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway mega-hit can still conjure a sense of warmth and wonder.

In a co-production with the Fulton Theatre of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Maine State Music Theatre has brought the show to its home stage at Pickard Theater in Brunswick.

With South Seas-styled set pieces and projections, the audience is transported to a highly fictionalized World War II era when boisterous American soldiers, sailors and nurses mingle freely with charming, old-world émigrés and hard-working Polynesians.

A good deal of the drama of the show comes from the author’s forward-thinking consideration of how racial attitudes of the era could alter the course of a truer sense of love that might blossom in this faraway paradise.

Co-directed by Marc Robin and Curt Dale Clark and choreographed by Robin, the roughly two-and-a-half-hour-plus-intermission production moves along smoothly with a mixture of folksy comedy (with just an occasional touch of mild naughtiness) and overall good cheer. It’s when the performers break into song, however, that it becomes clear why this old show still can bring in the crowds. By today’s standards, there are enough good songs here for at least two good musicals.


William Michals, Eliza Lawson, TroyLi Fan Santiago and Carolyn Anne Miller in “South Pacific.” Photo courtesy of Maine State Music Theatre

As exiled French plantation owner Emile, William Michals lends his resonant baritone to the nearly operatic “Some Enchanted Evening,” a resonant reflection on the magic of a deeply felt romantic attraction. Unfortunately, Emile’s children from a former marriage to a Polynesian woman may be a problem for his love interest who demeans them for being “colored.”

The object of Emile’s fantasies is American nurse Nellie, played by Carolyn Anne Miller. Miller employs a supposed Arkansas accent that may cause some to recall her performance of the Dolly Parton-inspired role in “9 to 5: The Musical,” which was produced at Maine State last season. Much of the down-home edge comes off that accent when she sings, though. Such classics as “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” and, especially, “I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy” spiritedly hit the mark.

Lydia Gaston with the company of “South Pacific.” Photo courtesy of Maine State Music Theatre

Among the memorable secondary characters, Lydia Gaston’s Bloody Mary transcends stereotyping on an enticing “Bali Ha’i” while Todd Lawson’s rascally sailor Billis works hard to convince the others that “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame.” Jake Goz, as lovestruck but conflicted Lieutenant Cable, yearns to be “Younger Than Springtime” but learns that “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.”

An orchestra led by Sam Groisser serves up soaring and occasionally splashy accompaniment for the mix of song and dance styles that make for an enchanting time at the theater.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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