It was quite the “enchanted evening” at J.E.B. Stuart High School’s theater in Falls Church, Virginia, where the student body showcased their exquisite talents in a performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.” The musical, a classic written shortly after World War II, is about relationships that form in the beautiful South Pacific during the war, and the ways that politics and war challenge these relationships.
When Emile, a Frenchman who took refuge on the isle after an accidental murder, and Nellie, a beautiful, self-proclaimed “hick” from Arkansas fall in love, there are many obstacles they must face. Officials use Nellie as a spy to get information about Emile’s background, Emile reveals he has two Polynesian children from a previous marriage, and Nellie must struggle while Emile is away on a potentially fatal war operation, just to name a few. But it is precisely these struggles that help them realize that they are truly in love, and that they cannot waste another minute denying the fact. Led by a superb cast of principals, J.E.B. Stuart’s execution of South Pacific made for an enjoyable night at the theater.
The strength of this production came from the leads, who showcased both phenomenal vocals and charismatic characters through their roles. Rachel Dady, in the role of Nellie, charmed the audience with her small-town naivete and curious southern twang. Her greatest strength, however, was in her vocal performance, which was both stunning and seemingly effortless. Dady has a wonderful belting range and sang each song with neither strain nor compromise. The range of her acting and vocal skills was seen best in the high energy number “Honey Bun.” Opposite her, Daniel Snyder (as Emile) delivered his songs with equal strength. His French accent was commendably consistent as well. Together they made a high school theater’s dream team of a leading man and lady.
But the talent did not end there. As the rambunctious and charismatic Bloody Mary, Caitlin O’Neill exhibited all important aspects of a true actor. From the get-go she lured in the audience with her contagious laughter and mischievous grin. Bloody Mary is a true instigator, and O’Neill brought out this side of her character with great humor. Body language, accent, and energy alike added to this wonderful comedic performance. O’Neill kept up vocally as well; her solos “Bali Ha’I” and “Happy Talk” were among the best in the show. Other notable mentions among the cast included Frank Blackmore as the sarcastic and love-stricken Luther Billis, and Stephen McFarland as Captain Brackett.
At times, the larger ensemble numbers lagged in energy in comparison to the rest of the show, but this did not overshadow the talent underlying the overall production. J.E.B. Stuart’s South Pacific was as close as high school comes to a day at the beach.
• Meaghan Hynes is a student at St. Alban’s and National Cathedral and a member of the Cappies: The Critics and Award Program for High School Theater.