The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

March 14, 2013

Years bring depth to 'South Pacific' role

SHARPSVILLE — Talk about deja vu.

When Jen Stephenson last acted in “South Pacific,” she was a Hickory High School student.

“It was with Don Struck and Ed Groves in 1988,” she said.

Struck is stage director and Groves music director for Area Community Theater of Sharpsville’s “South Pacific,” which runs this weekend and next in Pierce Opera House, Sharpsville.

“The guy who plays Billis was actually the little boy, Jerome,” in the Hickory production, she said, referring to the all-grown-up John Morris.

One thing that has changed for Stephenson, who plays Nellie Forbush, is her perspective of the musical’s controversial themes.

“My depth of understanding of what is going on when compared to when I was in high school are eons and eons apart,” she said.

With that greater understanding comes a better performance, she said.

“I think it’s a much deeper performance now,” she said.

The 1949 play by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, who had libretto help from Joshua Logan, was based on James Michener’s book, “Tales of the South Pacific,” from 1947.

Nellie is an American nurse who falls in love with a French plantation owner, but struggles to deal with his mixed-race children. An American soldier romances an Asian woman, cementing the theme of culture clash.

“It’s one of the classics in the repertoire,” said Alan Anderson, who plays Nellie’s love. “The themes that were groundbreaking when it came out are equally relevant today - bigotry, racism.”

Some folks who didn’t agree with the characters’ romantic inclinations cried foul, even calling the song “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” indecent and anti-American.

Stephenson said the 60-year-old controversy played into her wanting to act in it again.

“The depth of the controversy - it was a play that addressed things that were not addressable back then,” she said. “This musical was not afraid to put it on the table.”

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