Saturday, March 10, 2018

There Is Nothin’ Like South Pacific at the Maltz

Nothin' in the world.

To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, when a person is tired of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, one is tired of life.  How many times have we seen this glorious musical, from Broadway to regional productions?  Many.  And how many times have I played its captivating music on the piano?  Thousands.

So what does the Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s production have to offer?  Plenty.

First and foremost is a full professional cast of 28 that would rival any Broadway assemblage.  Then, the show plays to the Maltz’s strength: classic musicals that are not road shows, but original from the bottom up, casting, scenic design, costumes, musical arrangements, and expert directing.  Finally, the secret ingredient: an intimacy which is unusual for a big production.  We saw South Pacific at the Kravis years ago.  Although excellent, we’re talking about a theatre which seats more than 2,000 and seeing a full-size Broadway-designed musical is not the same as enjoying the intimacy of a 600 seat Maltz.  The music, the performances, the sheer energy simply reaches out and envelops the audience.  In fact, the performers are up and down the aisles, often interacting with the audience. 

Then of course it is the greatness of Rodgers and Hammerstein, and their place in transforming the musical genre from merely a series of songs loosely tied together.  Their groundbreaking Oklahoma! solidified the importance of “the book” in the Broadway musical, with music, songs, dance all integral to the plot.  Plots became more complex such as in South Pacific, two main story lines interwoven, each tackling a subject which was taboo before, interracial relations, all of this against the backdrop of WW II in the South Pacific. 

It was based on a series of interrelated short stories, the Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener, with the book for the musical by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan.  The importance of the themes was underscored by its winning The Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950, a rare distinction for a musical.  Its relevancy today is undiminished.  Its place as a classic among American musicals has been assured by the glorious melodies of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics, irrefutably one of the best musicals of the twentieth century.

When Erin Davie as Nellie belts out "A Cockeyed Optimist" at the beginning of the show you might as well be sitting in the front row of a Broadway production.  Hammerstein’s lyrics and Rodgers bouncy melody announces her typically apple pie American attitude towards life, in spite of the war surrounding her, Davie giving her introductory song a special cheery oomph.  Davie’s voice is a sweet soprano, but what she might lack in vocal power is more than compensated for by how spellbindingly she sells a song with her irresistible stage presence.

Segue to the other co-star, Nicholas Rodriguez as Emile, whose duet with Nellie in "Twin Soliloquies" establishes his character and showcases Rodriquez’s rich baritone while alternating with Nellie’s dreamy lyrics.  This is an ardent falling-in-love duet.  Then Rodriquez tenderly delivers what is perhaps Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most famous love song, "Some Enchanted Evening" recalling how he and Nellie met.

The stage is set for a more upbeat number sung by the talented Sailors, Seabees and Marines, "Bloody Mary" followed by the rousingly iconic "There Is Nothing Like a Dame."  We’re talking pure testosterone-high- energy in these production numbers with impressive choreography by Connor Gallagher.

Bloody Mary, played by Jodi Kimura sings the ballad "Bali Ha'i" with an exotic dreamy quality.  Kimura knows how to play to the audience and she’s the center of attention when on stage.  The moment she sees the other major character Lieutenant Cable played by Stephen Mark Lukas, Kimura articulates what the audience sees, telling a Seabee that “you not sexy like Lieutenant.”  Lukas’ rendition of the beautiful ballad, “Younger than Springtime” sung to Liat, Bloody Mary’s daughter, is especially memorable.

 His other major song "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" is the one which cuts to the core of South Pacific, a world torn apart by war and more thematically in this show, racism.  It was like no other song before in a Broadway musical.  Lukas performs the song with anger and self loathing, not being able to shake his inbred prejudices. 

Christian Marriner who plays seaman Luther Billis, “a sailor who bullies, bribes, and charms his way”, offers a show stopping performance in “Honey Bun.”  He performed this role in the national touring company of South Pacific which explains his owning this part with such assurance and bravado, bringing forth rousing applause from the audience.

The concluding scene, Emile returning from a dangerous mission and discovers Nellie singing "Dites-Moi" with his children, Ngana and Jerome (played by Hana Roberts and Ray Zurawin), is a guaranteed tearjerker as Emile completes the song.  He and Nellie rush into each other’s arms.  She has made the transition from being “as corny as Kansas in August” to knowing “I have found me a wonderful guy” (in spite of his being previously married to a Polynesian).  Love conquers all, even ingrained prejudice. 

The show is performed under the award-winning director Gordon Greenberg’s extraordinary expertise, whose credits include Broadway and PBS Great Performances' show, Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn and London's acclaimed West End revival of Guys and Dolls.  He directed the Maltz Theatre's critically-acclaimed hit production of Barnum in 2009.  With so many performers on stage it is a feat to direct South Pacific, with the production moving flawlessly, the invisible director’s hand at work.

The Maltz South Pacific production especially succeeds in stunning scenic designs by Paul Tate dePoo III, with scene changes on the fly and little interruption.  Costume designer Tristan Raines reveals a creative and colorful imagination, yet period perfect.  Lighting designer Rob Denton bathes the stage in exotic Island colors.  And the 13 piece LIVE orchestra under the musical direction of Eric Alsford delivers the exceptional accompaniment that a musical of this caliber deserves.

And so once again a great musical from the mid twentieth century has been brightly polished and finds relevancy today.  The Maltz Jupiter Theatre production of South Pacific is not to be missed.

Photos in order of appearance:Erin Davie and Nicholas Rodriguez, Photo by Alicia Donelan;  Surrounded by Seabees, Jodie Kimura portrays Bloody Mary, Photo by Charlotte Donelan;  Shea Renne and Stephen Mark Lukas, Photo by Alicia Donelan;  Stephen Mark Lukas and Shea Renne, Photo by Zak Bennett;  Erin Davie and Nicholas Rodriguez (center) with Hana Roberts and Ray Zurawin, Photo by Charlotte Donelan;  Erin Davie portrays Nellie Forbush, Photo by Alicia Donelan


Thursday, March 8, 2018

I Didn’t Know About You

The longer I live the more I’m astounded by the beautiful music of the Great American Songbook.  You think you’ve heard all those classic songs, ones which will endure and transcend what passes as popular music today, and suddenly you hear a “new” one (at least to me), either at a jazz jam or even on the old fashioned radio. 

One would think radio is a thing of the past, all the FM stations mostly devoted to contemporary “music” until Legends Radio 100.3 FM was founded in the Palm Beaches by professional broadcaster Dick Robinson, who is also the founder of the Society for the Preservation of the Great American Songbook.  Even though local, it’s available world-wide at

I remember pulling out of our driveway one day, listening to 100.3 and hearing I Didn’t Know About You.  I said to Ann that song sounds like one by Duke Ellington.  His In a Sentimental Mood is one of my favorites. I made a mental note of the song and looked it up in one of my Jazz fake books when we returned home and sure enough, it’s by Duke Ellington, with beautiful lyrics written by Bob Russell. 

The version we heard on the radio was performed by one of a jazz favorites, Jane Monheit who we saw a couple of years ago at the Colony on Palm Beach.

I’ve incorporated I Didn’t Know About You in my own piano repertoire, and since I haven’t posted anything on YouTube in some time, I offer it here, so there is some documentation of my love of this music.  It is with profound gratitude to the great musical artists who created this body of music, loosely referred to as The Great American Songbook.  It enriches our lives. May it endure!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Spring Training and the Boys of Summer

Spring. Renewal.  It seems that with every passing year, replenishment of the spirit becomes a higher priority: this year, perhaps even more so, given the chaotic destruction of government, and the deterioration of civility.

One remaining constant is baseball, spring training, and the boys of summer gathering once again: the crack of the bat and the pounding of gloves in the bullpen.

The game has changed from the days of my own boyhood.  Pitchers then generally went nine innings, maybe more.  There were no designated hitters, few bullpen stoppers, salary arbitration, automatic walks, game clocks, ML baseball drafts, protective helmets (inside pitches were integral to the game), anti-spitball rules, instant replay challenges, and preposterous salaries (and ticket prices).  “Hey, get your hot dog and cold beer, $10 each!”

Perhaps some of these adjustments are for the better.  But, essentially, the game changed to remain the same and with spring, the clock is wound once again.

Our friends Cathy and John are Boston Red Sox fans, the archenemy of us New York Yankee devotees. When they asked whether I wanted to join them to see the Sox play the St. Louis Cardinals at our nearby Roger Dean Jupiter stadium, I said, sure, why not, an opportunity to scout the opposition and engage in some good-natured ribbing.

And scouting it was, as the Sox were traveling from FL’s west coast and only brought a handful of regulars.  So, it was an opportunity to see some of their players of the future.  It’s the same reason we have regular tickets to Class A+ minor league ball after spring training – to see the future.

The day before Cathy and John saw the Red Sox lose to the Houston Astros 10-5 at the neighboring Ball Park of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach.  I jokingly predicted that the Red Sox might win against the Cards by the same score, and was almost right, winning 9-6.  Well, at least I guessed the total number of runs correctly.

It was a sell-out, standing room only crowd.  John and Cathy had obtained tickets several weeks before. When the Sox or the Yankees visit FL’s east coast from their west coast spring training facilities, which is rare, tickets are scarce.  We had seats with a good view between third base and left field in the second tier.  Best of all, these seats were in the shade. 

It was strange to watch the two teams go through their warm up and batting practice exercises as both teams had red jerseys on.  When play finally started it was hard to tell who was fielding behind a base or who was on base.  I had to keep looking at the scoreboard to tell which team was at bat.

Two pitchers from their normal rotation started, Bud Norris of the St. Louis Cards and Drew Pomeranz of the Red Sox.  Both left the games with injuries before they completed their allotted two or three innings, Norris because of a hamstring injury and Pomeranz because of a forearm tightness issue.

The righty Norris in action:


The lefty Pomeranz in action:


Norris got into trouble in the first inning giving up a well hit home run to one of the few Boston regulars who played, Andrew Benintendi.  I managed to get a shot of Benintendi’s follow through swing as he hit that ball: 

An inning later, Norris left the game after this conference on the mound:

So there were lots of hits, runs, errors in the game, making it interesting, even though it was only practice, but to see the boys of summer in the spring means some order and stability in the world.  Doesn’t it?

As it is that time of year, and having loved The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, Ann bought me another “baseball novel” to read, selecting Bucky F*cking Dent by the very well known screen actor, David Duchovny.  I first hesitated reading it, an actor writing a novel, perhaps just capitalizing on his fame.  But, no, Duchovny is a good writer as well and I’ll give him credit for what I would describe as a “late coming of age” novel, a son confronting his father after years of estrangement. 

Who knew, the dad and son are really very much alike.  Problem is the dad is dying and as he’s an ardent Bosox fan, the son (ironically subsisting as the ace Peanut thrower vendor at Yankee stadium) moves in with his father and conspires (with his father’s friends) to keep him away from the fact that the Sox are slipping in the standings as the 1978 season comes to an end.  They censor current newspapers and run VCR tapes of previous Red Sox wins over NY, Ted knowing his father, Marty, wouldn’t remember them. In the end there is the end, Bucky f*cking Dent winning the AL pennant for the NYY with his home run over the green wall in the final game of the season.  By then, father and son have become reconciled.

It’s light reading, poignant and funny at times and a page turner, not that there is a lot of baseball therein, but I was very curious about how the novel would resolve and Duchovny writes good dialogue, almost like a screenplay, which, I recall, this novel started out as such.  As a baseball novel and as a noteworthy piece of literature, it pales next to Harbach’s The Art of Fielding.  Duchovny’s work is baseball “lite.”

But still, it’s my era and I’ll never forget that moment in Paris -- Ann and I happened to be there when the Sox and the Yankees faced off each other at Fenway on Oct 2, 1978.  Back then, no Internet, and needless to say no coverage of American baseball anywhere and so we had to await the next day’s edition of the International Herald Tribune to learn the glorious news of the Dent’s unexpected heroism, and at Fenway no less.  I remember Ann and I dancing in the streets of Paris, a strange sight, but Parisians take those things in stride: “ces Américains fous.”