WATERLOO — Set during World War II in the 1940s, “South Pacific” carries a message that still hits home today.
“It’s all about accepting everybody as they are and being open to everybody, no matter what their skin color,” said Shelley Johnson, who directs DeKalb High School’s production of the musical this weekend.
“I guess the classics always stay alive. They never go out of date,” added Johnson, who this spring is returning to the first musical she directed at DeKalb in 1986.
“It’s an old-school musical, and I had forgotten how much I like those. … The music is so gorgeous,” Johnson said.
DeKalb’s cast can deliver the show’s tunes as well as its theme, Johnson said.
“They’re incredible singers,” Johnson said. “They really work well with this music. We’ve got some pretty well-trained voices. They’ve been taking lessons for four years here, now — besides being in choir, private lessons.”
Written by Broadway legends Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, “South Pacific” offers a nonstop repertoire of memorable songs, such as “Some Enchanted Evening” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy.”
The show revolves around a pair of love stories between American military personnel and the inhabitants of a South Pacific island.
Kamryn Moreland plays the female lead as Nellie Forbush, a U.S. Navy nurse who falls for an older French plantation owner but hesitates because of his half-Polynesian children.
“She’s got this lovely soprano voice … and she’s really embracing the part,” Johnson said about Moreland. “Romantic leading ladies are hard to do. … To make those romantic leads have a great personality and come to life, that’s difficult. That’s good acting.”
In the role of plantation owner Emile de Becque, Hunter Grate “is a wonderful baritone — just a beautiful voice,” who has developed a convincing French accent, Johnson said.
Andrew Hartman portrays U.S. Marine Lt. Joseph Cable and looks the part, Johnson said.
“He’s got this incredible tenor voice, and it’s just gorgeous,” Johnson said about Hartman. Struggling with his feelings for a beautiful Asian girl, the lieutenant brings home the show’s theme of tolerance with the stinging lyrics of “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.”
Brightening the mood, Analyse Coutlee portrays feisty island woman Bloody Mary, stealing the scene every time she appears on stage. Johnson calls Coutlee “our character actress of the century.”
Malek Brown adds more comic relief as scheming Seabee Luther Billus, ringleader of the enlisted men who lament their loneliness in “There is Nothing Like a Dame.”
“It’s a great cast. They’ve worked hard. They’re serious about what they’re doing,” Johnson said.
Backstage, she said, “My tech crew is incredible,” led by Laurel Hoff and Cristopher Sproat. “They run the show,” Johnson said. “They are my right hand and left hand.”
Jed Freels, a DeKalb Middle School teacher and founder of Auburn Actors Theater, is assisting with direction. DeKalb alumnus and Broadway performer Josh Sassanella choreographed the show and helped create a simplified set with three movable piers. Johnson said, “He’s just brought it into the next century, is what he’s done with his ideas.”
The show opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the school’s auditorium, with another performance at 7:30 Saturday night and a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $8 for general admission or $6 for students and senior citizens. Tickets may be purchased in advance by calling the school at 920-1012, ext. 2132.