Magazine Feature

Lamont Opera looks for another hit with fall show ‘South Pacific’

Teleri Gee as Aunt Eller and George Arvidson as Curly in the Lamont Opera's 2013 fall musical, "Oklahoma!" Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Camille Jasensky as Laurey and Thomas Kittle as Curly in the Lamont Opera’s 2013 fall musical, “Oklahoma!” Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Ticket sales at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music increased 123 percent between 2012–13 and 2013–14, largely due to the huge success of the Lamont Opera Theatre’s first-ever fall musical, “Oklahoma!,” which sold out three of its four performances last October.

Lamont Opera director Kenneth Cox is hoping to repeat the feat with the company’s second fall musical, “South Pacific,” which runs Oct. 30–Nov. 2 in the June Swaner Gates Concert Hall at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts. Like “Oklahoma!,” it’s a golden-age classic from powerhouse Broadway team Rodgers and Hammerstein.

“It’s a great piece, both dramatically and musically,” Cox says. “It’s got some super musical numbers: ‘Some Enchanted Evening,’ ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,’ ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’—it’s a great opportunity for the students to do a really iconic piece that will provide a number of kids with leading-role experience. It’s got a nice number of leads, and all the leads are double-cast.”

Based on James Michener’s bestselling “Tales of the South Pacific” and the third major musical for Rodgers and Hammerstein (after “Oklahoma!” and “Carousel”), “South Pacific” premiered on Broadway in 1949 with Italian opera singer Ezio Pinza and Broadway star Mary Martin in the starring roles.

The show focuses on the romance between Nellie Forbush, an American nurse stationed in the South Pacific during World War II, and Emile de Becque, a French plantation owner with mixed-race children. It also features a relationship between a U.S. lieutenant and a young Tonkinese woman. Rodgers and Hammerstein had something to say about racial prejudice in the post-war world, and they said it loudly in songs like “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”: “You’ve got to be taught to be afraid/Of people whose eyes are oddly made/And people whose skin is a different shade.”

“It has really catchy tunes, but it also has a serious plot to it,” says senior voice major Griffen Hogan Tracy, who will play one of the two Emiles in the Lamont production. “It’s still very significant when it comes to the racism that it deals with. It spoke out a lot against what was the norm at the time.”

Students auditioned in May and were cast before the end of the school year; they spent the summer learning their lines before rehearsals begin in the fall. There are only eight weeks between the start of classes in September and opening night on Oct. 30.

Tracy shares the part of Emile with junior Michael Hewitt; the Nellies are split between graduate student Lisa Tenorio and senior Meghan Jacobs.

“Every show that we do is pretty evenly weighted between graduates and undergraduates for leads, which is pretty cool,” Cox says. “At [other] programs, they have so many doctoral candidates there that it’s very unusual for an undergraduate to get a lead. At Lamont, we do it all the time.”

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