The 50th anniversary season at Whidbey Playhouse in Oak Harbor is providing some enchanting entertainment this month with its latest production of “South Pacific.” The play opened June 3 and runs through June 26.
The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical features classic songs like “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Bali Hai,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” and “Happy Talk.” It is a fun production filled with romance, drama and laughter.
It is a well-known, big production that has been done for both stage and screen. A big musical like “South Pacific” makes for a big cast, according to director Rusty Hendrix.
“There are 32 cast members, about eight in lead roles, the rest are part of the chorus,” Hendrix said, adding that she didn’t have the heart to refuse anyone a role, so she added them to the chorus.
One of the biggest challenges as the director, Hendrirx said, was figuring out to make the most of the limited space on stage, especially with a large cast.
“The most challenging thing for me was to get everything I wanted as part of the set on the stage, because there’s only so much room,” she said. “But I think we’ve solved it creatively, especially the part of the set that serves as a back wall in some scenes and pivots to become part of the office.”
Besides a built-in familiarity with the story, there is also a certain appeal that comes from Oak Harbor’s strong with ties to the Navy. Set in the South Pacific during World War II, the play revolves around a Navy nurse, Ensign Nellie Forbush, and her love interest, Frenchman Emile de Becque. The connection between the two characters, played by Shantel Porter and Ron Wohl, was essential to the success of the production, said Hendrix.
“My favorite part of the play is the ending and the look between Nellie and Emile,” Hendrix said. “They were already good actors, so we really just worked on making that connection between their characters, and I think it worked.”
“I’ve worked on plenty of productions and some of them never get cozy,” Hendrix continued. “But this one, everybody likes everybody. People have really become like family.”
“Nellie is sweet,” Porter said of her character. “She’s so not a traditional officer.”
This is Porter’s sixth production with Whidbey Playhouse. While four of those productions have been musicals, she claims she’s not a singer.
“I love to sing, but I’m not a vocalist, so this show is a huge challenge for me,” she said. “But I love how rewarding it is. We’ve worked so hard on this for three months and I love being able to share it with the audience.”
“This has been one of the greatest experiences I’ve had,” said Eric George, who plays Stewpot. “South Pacific” is his first production with the Playhouse.
“It has rekindled my love for the stage,” he said.
This is also the first production for Michael Jesse Lantz, who plays Lt. Joseph Cable.
“It has opened my eyes to what I want to do,” he said. “Because this is my first production, I had a hard time memorizing my lines. It was a lot to take on.”
Lantz said the music was his biggest challenge.
“Learning to sing has been hard,” he said. “I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to project.”
People in the audience for a working rehearsal and press night said they were impressed by the local production.
“I’m really impressed with their singing voices,” said Amanda Heiss, who was there to support her friend, George. “And I could pick out the characters from the movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
“I love the music and because it’s a big cast, visually it’s fun to watch because we’re all having fun,” Porter said.
Hendrix also credits the choreographers who worked with the cast.”
“They really came through for me,” she said. “Because we had three choreographers, all with different styles, it all came together beautifully for the different scenes.”
“In my opinion, there’s nothing better than live theater,” said Porter. “I appreciate all the time and effort it takes to pull something like this off, and I think the audience appreciates it, too.”
The production continues through June 26. Tickets are available at the theater box office, at 730 SE Midway Ave. in Oak Harbor. More information is available online at www.whidbeyplayhouse.com or by calling 360-679-2237.
“Come play with us,” Hendrix said.