A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Mar 21, 2014
09:31 AM
Classically Speaking

St. Bernard Players’ 'South Pacific' Has Enchantment and More

St. Bernard Players’ 'South Pacific' Has Enchantment and More

'South Pacific' premiered on Broadway in 1949.

It might be hard to argue that the St. Bernard Players, a group that was started as a function of St. Bernard Catholic Church in 1999, is a well-kept secret: The group opened a six-performance run of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic, South Pacific, Thursday night and all the performances are sold out. But it was new to me, and in my inaugural visit I experienced a new expression of what the arts can mean to the community.

Not long after Tara and Mickey Reynolds moved here from New York City in 1999, they (she produces and he directs) launched a theater group intended for the parish. But within five years or so, the growing reputation and impact on the surrounding community (the church is on Atwood Avenue), led to open auditions and the production of secular classics. Today for a whopping $25, you can enjoy a delightful meal, free parking and a performance that ranges from modestly successful in stretches to moments that are truly memorable—and all of it wrapped in a collegial camaraderie that is a breed apart from the usual venues in town.

Judging from this year’s cast, the auditions bring a variety of highly talented semi-professionals, many of them folks who are not full time, but often have had extensive experience ranging from other community theater groups to Madison Opera. Highest praise goes to Paige Fecteau as Nellie Forbush; her voice is expressive, assured and unforced throughout the range, and she adopted just enough of a soft Southern accent to have us believe that she did indeed hail from Little Rock.

Greg Walters was the middle-aged Emile de Becque, who likewise was judicious in his French accent, and proved as nimble an actor as he is a seasoned vocalist. Familiar to many listeners over the last three decades from local Christian radio and in various roles in Madison Opera, Walters delivered reliable expression in all of his big numbers.

Steve Mendez, much like Fecteau, was nearly perfectly cast as Lt. Cable. Lacking only the strength for ringing climactic high notes, Mendez had great chemistry with both Fecteau and Liat (Carla Angeloni). Janine Gardner was a borderline scene stealer as Bloody Mary, as was Paul Kellerman as Luther Billis. The latter, in the outrageous “Honeypot” song made famous by Ray Walston in the film version, was a virtual showstopper.

Mickey Reynolds’ direction was fluid, and played to great effect in concerted numbers, such as the aforementioned “Honeypot” as well as “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair.” The ensemble of seabees was crisp and energetic and the members showed nice flashes of individual personality, qualities closely matched by the chorus of nurses.

After extended ovations for one and all, the cast waded in among the tables of the two hundred or so that had happily soaked up a classic, greeted and congratulated by old friends and new attendees alike. And it was such an encouragement to see so many families there, with children of all ages. It wasn’t the Overture Center—but the St. Bernard Players was and is one of those smaller pieces of the mosaic that make a large city like Madison really feel like home. Performances continue (dinner served at 6 p.m.) on March 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29—and they do have a waiting list.

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About This Blog

Years before I contributed my first classical review to the Los Angeles Times in 1988, I started a class in music appreciation for adults that had one aim: to put a few cracks in the “ivory tower elitism” I found pervasive in the classical music world since my boyhood days. Whether as a critic, program annotator or band director, that goal has never changed. After all, Mozart and Beethoven and the gang wrote their music for people like you—not critics or professors!

After growing up in the suburbs of New York City, and spending twenty years in and around Los Angeles, the last twelve years here leave me more amazed than ever at the musical riches of Madison. I’m a cheerleader at heart, because I always think more people would become classical fans if they’d give it a chance—but I’m also quick to tell you when you’re not getting your money’s worth. Classically Speaking brings you as much news and as many reviews as possible, and I hope you’ll join me for a fabulous musical journey.

–  Greg Hettmansberger
Follow Greg on Twitter @ghettmansberger

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