Easy Street, YSO bring ‘South Pacific’ to Powers Auditorium
Easy Street Productions and the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra are back for an encore.
The two arts organizations collaborated on a concert version of the musical “Guys & Dolls” that filled Powers Auditorium in February.
This time they join forces to present one of the most beloved and acclaimed musicals of all time with “South Pacific in Concert,” which will be staged Saturday and Sunday at Powers.
While many “in concert” musical presentations feature performers in formal attire singing the songs and delivering the dialogue with script in hand, Easy Street co-founder Todd Hancock said “South Pacific” will be presented in the same semi-staged style as “Guys & Dolls.” The production will use digital projections for the backdrops and to set the scene, but the actors will be in costume, off book and acting out the story around the 20-plus orchestra musicians on stage being conducted by Randall Craig Fleischer.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be directing ‘South Pacific,'” Hancock said. “Not that I didn’t like it. It’s just so big of a show.”
The Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II musical focusing on a group of sailors and nurses stationed in the South Pacific during World War II, is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its Broadway debut. A romantic musical that also addressed issues of racism and prejudice, “South Pacific” won 10 Tony Awards, including best musical, and it was the second musical ever to win the Pulitzer Prize.
It includes such songs as including “Some Enchanted Evening,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair,” “There Ain’t Nothin’ Like a Dame,” “Happy Talk,” “Bali Ha’i,” “Younger than Springtime,” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy.”
Hancock believes the concert presentation format, which eliminates many of the dance numbers and use narration to pare down some of the dialogue, makes Broadway standards like “South Pacific” more affordable to stage and more accessible to contemporary audiences.
“I like getting out of there in two hours,” Hancock said. “We made a career (at Easy Street) out of two-hour musicals. I love short and sweet. That’s why these concert versions are so great. We still put money into costumes and things like that, but (the cost of) the sets don’t kill you, and you’re not there three, three-and-a-half hours.”
Several of the stars of “Guys & Dolls” are returning for “South Pacific.” Canfield native Elysia Jordan, who was part of the cast for the first national tour of “School of Rock,” will play Nellie Forbush, a nurse who falls in love with Emilie de Becque, a French plantation owner.
Pittsburgh-based actor Allan Snyder, who spent two years on the road in the title role of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” and also was a part of the final cast for the original Broadway production of “Les Miserables,” was happy to return as de Becque after playing Sky Masterson in “G&D.”
“Without a doubt, having never been to Youngstown before, I was amazed by the talent and work ethic of the local theater community,” Snyder said. “(With ‘Guys & Dolls’) I kind of got this call out of nowhere. It sounded like an amazing project, but I didn’t know what to expect … I was impressed from the very first rehearsal just seeing the talent and the energy and enthusiasm of everyone involved.”
Boardman pediatrician John Cox will play conniving seabee Luther Billis after playing Nathan Detroit in “G&D.”
“Just to be on stage with professionals who have done it on Broadway, Off-Broadway and national tours and also the beauty and pageantry of being at the DeYor, being a local guy it was a dream come true,” Cox said.
Other cast members include Karen Clark Green as Bloody Mary, Pittsburgh actor David Toole as Lt. Joseph Cable, Sabryna Johnson as Liat, Robert Kozar as Captain Brackett, Mark Nelson as Commander Harbison and Eliza and Kaden Primous as Ngana and Jerome, with a chorus of more than 35 sailors and nurses.
Hancock said finding enough men was a challenge.
“I thought I set a record with ‘Guys & Dolls,’ but his is actually more guys,” he said. “I had to call every living breathing male person I knew. We have 25 sailors, which is unheard of in this town. I don’t think there’s ever been a male chorus this big.”
Having the experience of the first collaboration makes this production easier in some ways, Hancock said, but the success of “Guys & Dolls” also sets the bar high for its follow up and what he hopes will be additional coproductions.
“I’m hoping we can do at lest one or two a year,” he said. “It’s reinvigorating the symphony audience and it’s a nice union, a nice marriage between the two companies, each bringing equally to the performance.”