The Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre has always tried to attract people with big-time talent. But for “South Pacific,” they attracted someone with big-time clout: Timothy Childs.
He’s a major Broadway producer, and I do mean major. In fact, you may have heard of him when he made the news this spring. He’s the man who had the unpleasant task of firing the little girl who played Annie in the Broadway revival of “Annie.” Childs is the producer of that revival, and he had to endure a storm of protest over that decision, but he said it was something that simply had to be done.
“When you have a multimillion dollar production, with 26 actors, and one of them turns out not to be able to perform the role the way she was supposed to, you have to do something,” said Childs. “The reaction surprised me. If I had to do it all over again, I would have done it two months sooner.”
Childs has also produced “A Christmas Carol” on Broadway starring Patrick Stewart; Arthur Miller’s “Broken Glass” on Broadway; and “Jeffrey” at the Westwood Playhouse in Los Angeles.
Yet now he wants to turn his attention to directing musicals. He is slated to direct “Annie” at the Tennessee Repertory in Nashville later this year, so he wanted to get his feet wet with another show first. This spring he started looking around for a summer-stock company. One of the places he contacted was the CDA Summer Theatre. Boy, were they surprised to get a query from Timothy Childs.
“We checked him out and realized who he was, and called back and said, well, this is what we are,” said Roger Welch, the artistic director. “He said, fine. He wanted to do it.”
So now he’s here working with a cast he says is “just terrific, very talented.” He stopped short of saying that the talent level is as high in New York (“no level of talent is as high as in New York”). But he did say there are certainly actors here who would do very well in New York.
He said the challenge in directing “South Pacific” is to make it compelling for an audience that did not live through World War II.
Maybe that won’t be too much of a challenge. This classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is as timeless as a Broadway musical can be. It is set during World War II, yet it deals with issues that continue to be vital, including issues of race and intolerance.
And the score is one of the finest ever written for a musical. It includes “Some Enchanted Evening,” plus a number of other classics, including, “I’m Going to Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair,” “Younger Than Springtime,” “I’m In Love With a Wonderful Guy,” “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame,” and “Bali Hai.”
“Yet all of that familiar music can be a trap, because then people don’t listen as well as they could,” said Childs, who said his goal is to make every song a specific personal statement.
As originally proposed back in the late ‘40s, this adaptation of James Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific” was an unlikely candidate for musical greatness. A romantic wartime musical? Yet Rodgers and Hammerstein were clearly at the peak of their powers, and when it opened on Broadway in 1949, it received gushing reviews. Here are a few excerpts from the New York reviews published the day after opening night:
“Every number is so outstanding that it is difficult to decide which will be the most popular.” - Robert Coleman, Daily Mirror.
“If the country still has the taste to appreciate a masterly love song, ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ ought to become reasonably immortal.” - Brooks Atkinson, New York Times.
“An utterly captivating work of theatrical art. I do not think it is first-night excess which causes me to hail it as one of the finest musical plays in the history of the American theater.” - Richard Watts, Jr., New York Post.
According to the book “Opening Night on Broadway,” It was one of only eight musicals in the 20 years of Broadway’s “Golden Age” to get unanimous rave reviews (the others being “Brigadoon,” “Guys and Dolls,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” “The Music Man,” “My Fair Lady,” “Wonderful Town” and “An Evening with Beatrice Lillie”).
The CdA Summer Theatre’s version promises to be strong, because of the talent Childs alluded to. It features the incomparable Bobbi Kotula in the lead role of Nellie Forbush. Eric Englund, an equally fine talent, plays the French planter she falls in love with, Emile Debecque. Holladay Sanderson plays Bloody Mary and Cheyenne Jackson plays Joseph Cable.
“South Pacific” opens tonight and continues Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Aug. 28-30. All shows are at 8 p.m. except for a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets are $20, $14 for students, available by calling (800) 4-CDA-TIX or (208) 769-7780. All shows are at North Idaho College’s Schuler Auditorium in Boswell Hall.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos
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