By Frank Lewis
Portsmouth Little Theatre will take an ambitious step forward when it presents Rodgers and Hemmerstein’s “South Pacific,” Feb. 14-16, 21 and 22 at the Little Theatre building located at 1117 Lawson St.
The epic musical romance centers on a group of American sailors and Navy nurses stationed in the South Pacific during World War II. Dr. Vincent Scarpinato (Emile de Becque) and Eric Armstrong (Lt. Joe Cable) again perform together as the male leads in the musical. In addition, Megan Keaton performs the role of Nellie Forbush, while Julie Ann Buckler is Bloody Mary.
“It’s a huge show,” Scarpinato said. “And we couldn’t do it if we didn’t have Linda Tieman as the musical director and Jason Chaney, the heart of Portsmouth Little Theatre, directing it. We’re lucky; we have a great cast which includes a whole group of sailors, and they sing ‘There’s Nothing Like a Dame,’ and Linda Tieman has a whole group of (Portsmouth West) high school men that sing as a special choir - The Singing Men of West - and that whole choir is playing all of the sailors. So we’re very lucky we have ambitious people doing an ambitious show.”
He said the script echoes a lot of issues still experienced today.
“I was going through the script the other day, and we’re dealing with the same issues today that we did then, which is race and the way you’re born and the way you think, because its the way your parents think and racial inequality, mixed marriages, things like that,” Scarpinato said. “You’d think that 40 years later we would have come a long way, and I’m afraid to say I’m not sure we have. So it’s very timely even though it’s an American classic musical.”
One of the songs that reflects that theme is “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” which Armstrong will sing, with lyrics such as - “You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, Before you are six or seven or eight, To hate all the people your relatives hate, You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
“I play a Frenchman who had to leave France because of bigotry, bullies and all of that kind of stuff,” Scarpinato said. “And the scene about ‘You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’ is between our two characters (de Becque and Cable), and I am saying this is not something that you’re born with. He (Cable) finally realizes that he’s in the same position. He doesn’t want to marry this girl because she’s from the islands. You have to be taught to be racist. You have to be taught to be anti-semitic or whatever it is. That’s the point of the show. We are not born that way. We are born beautiful and innocent, and then we get corrupt, most of the time from our parents. Their prejudices become our prejudices.”
Scarpinato and Armstrong sing back-to-back songs; Armstrong sings “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” then Scarpinato sings the beautiful “One Dream In My Heart.”
“It essentially becomes the 11 o’clock number if you will, of the show,” Scarpinato said. “And it’s very moving and very touching.”
Scarpinato was asked what it is going to be like to sing one of the most iconic songs of all times - “Some Enchanted Evening.”
“First of all, it’s a privilege,” Scarpinato said. “It’s a privilege to sing such a beautiful song that is so meaningful. I’m humbled by it because, I think I’m a very good doctor and I am so thankful that I am a surgeon and I have got some skills in my brain and in my hand that allow me to do what I do. And I know I’ve got some other gifts, and I’m glad I don’t make my living by singing, because no one would ever pay me to do that. But I am humbled and just thrilled to be able to sing this song that you grew up hearing.”
The show is directed by Jason Chaney with Guinevere Mercer, assistant director and Linda Tieman performing the duties of musical director.
The performances are scheduled for Feb. 14 and 15 at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 16 at 2 p.m., Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 22 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at pltlive.com.
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 252, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt.