This weekend, one of Broadway’s most iconic musicals hits the Greensboro downtown stage: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” opening Sept. 17 at Triad Stage’s Pyrle Theater.
The joint production of UNCG and Triad Stage will kick off the 2017-2018 University Concert and Lecture Series, and it will have Triad Stage’s largest cast to date. The performers include 20 UNCG student and alumni actors, as well as UNCG orchestra musicians, directed by doctoral candidate Justin Cowan.
Based on a story collection by James Michener, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “South Pacific” unfolds on an island that serves as a World War II-era United States military stopover. Many who are familiar with the music remember catchy numbers like “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” and “There’s Nothing Like a Dame,” but the story addresses serious issues that resonate with a contemporary audience.
“It’s so compellingly about a particular time period, but it also speaks to us today,” said Triad Stage artistic director and UNCG School of Theatre faculty member Preston Lane. “It’s about young people ripped out of complacency and sent to another place. They’re not yet in battle but they’re about to be. They have love, excitement, patriotism, fear.”
Kamilah Bush, a recent graduate of UNCG’s Theatre Education program, serves as the production’s dramaturg, or the contextual researcher and script advisor. She describes her work on “South Pacific” as an intensely meaningful challenge.
“It’s not just a museum piece with cute 1940s costumes,” she said. “It’s a real, relevant conversation that a modern-day audience can connect with.”
Throughout the rehearsal weeks, the “South Pacific” cast and designers held discussions about the play’s historical context and how it translates for contemporary audiences. The love story hinges on racial segregation, and at the time of the musical’s debut, the song “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” which Lane calls “the heart of the show,” was highly controversial.
“This production has given me a chance to examine the world through many different perspectives, and to deal with the difficult realities of racism, war, human nature and love,” said senior theatre major Stephanie Schroeder.
Schroeder, who plays a nurse in “South Pacific,” is also completing a minor in vocal performance and in musical theatre, a new minor in the UNCG School of Theatre.
The ongoing partnership between Triad Stage and UNCG has been a boon for both organizations. With opportunity to perform in professional productions, UNCG students, such as the 14 students in the cast of “South Pacific,” gain real-world experience as they complete their degrees, going through “the throes and rigor of a professional rehearsal process,” as theater education major William Stapleton calls it.
Triad Stage benefits from the partnership in part by tapping the talent of UNCG students, faculty and alumni, which gives directors the ability to stage plays with larger casts and greater production needs.
“We’re on a real journey together,” said Lane, “to reimagine what a professional theatre and university relationship can be in the 21st century.
“South Pacific” runs through Oct. 15. Tickets are available at the Triad Stage box office online, by phone at (336) 272-0160 and in person at 232 S. Elm St. in downtown Greensboro, Monday through Friday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Tickets are available for UNCG students for $5 and UNCG faculty and staff receive a 20 percent discount by using the code “BALIHAI.”
View the entire UCLS season here.
By Susan Kirby-Smith
Photography courtesy of Triad Stage