Spend an enchanted evening with ITW’s concert version of ‘South Pacific’

David Behnke plays Emile in the Island Theater Workshop's production of South Pacific. —Stacey Rupolo

“Bali Ha’i” will be calling this weekend when the Island Theater Workshop (ITW) presents a concert version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.” The production will include the entire score of the Tony- and Pulitzer-prizewinning musical, which is jam-packed with some of Broadway’s most memorable songs. Among the 15 songs a select group of ITW singers will be performing (with live musical accompaniment) are “Some Enchanted Evening,” “I’m In Love with a Wonderful Guy,” and “There Is Nothing Like a Dame.” Sections of dialogue that will explain the action will precede each musical number to keep the audience on top of the plot.

Kevin Ryan, ITW artistic director, explains the group’s decision to stage the show in a concert version. “The subject matter is tough,” he says. “When you sit through the whole show, you’ve got just under three hours of love and anger and war. At the core of it all is racism. The text and dialogue are cut down to allow us to focus on the songs. Of all the musicals, this is some of the finest music because of the simplicity. Many of the big Broadway shows feature big, bombastic scores. The songs from ‘South Pacific’ are so amazing — funny and warm and beautiful and bright.”

Among the performers delivering these familiar tunes will be three professional singers. Playing the two leads are former opera singer David Behnke, who played the Beast in last summer’s ITW production of “Beauty and the Beast,” and Jenny Friedman, who took the female lead in ITW’s “The King and I” in 2015. Ken Romero, who will take on the second major male role of Lieut. Cable, has extensive musical theater experience. Other featured performers include Shelley Brown and Brad Austin. The chorus will be made up of about 20 local singers.

The small orchestra will include Adele Dreyer on piano, Jan Hyer on cello, and Liz Henderson on violin.

When it opened in 1949, “South Pacific” was considered groundbreaking both in form and subject matter. It was among the first of the major musicals to feature songs fully integrated into the plot. The action takes place in the midst of WWII, with many of the principals members of the military. The spotlight on racism was considered forward-thinking for the time.

“Here it is 68 years later, and look at the world we live in,” says Mr. Ryan. “We’re spread across the globe militarily. We still have issues of race and religion. We still have all of the same problems. That’s why the show hit home with me.

“For me, there’s an awful lot in the core of the story to make it relevant now. It’s a gentle reminder that we need to look at each other more closely, smile more warmly. We can fix the planet.”

Of course, it’s the music that was as much of an attraction as anything for Mr. Ryan. “When you look at all of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s shows, you might get three songs that are memorable,” he says. “It’s just remarkable that ‘South Pacific’ has a dozen memorable songs. The show is just full of love and hope and humor.”

Humor is certainly a big part of a show that features such songs as “Happy Talk” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair.”

Come enjoy an “Enchanted Evening” this Saturday, April 29, at 7:30 pm and Sunday, April 30, at 3:30 pm at the Old Whaling Church.