Saturday, June 27, 2015

Nothin' Like a Dame

Where better to go after a positively exhausting week than Bali Ha'i?

Despite the fact that my train wasn't getting in until almost 6:30 and despite that it was late and arrived closer to 7, I managed to get home, unpack, get cleaned up and present myself at the November Theater to meet my date for Virginia Repertory's opening night performance of "South Pacific."

Only a cock-eyed optimist would even attempt such a thing.

On the way over, I ran into a favorite server and his adorable beagle, both recently moved to Jackson Ward. He shared the newcomer's perspective (loves the vibe and touch of grit) and I the more long time resident's (nine years) view, all while scratching those velvet ears (the beagle's, not Michael's).

Opening night meant not only a gold medallion on our programs, but lots of familiar faces - the gallerist and his perky wife, the dancer I hadn't seen in years, and more actors, directors and theater people than should probably be in one place at any given time (you know, in case something happens).

My date was the perfect one because, somehow, some way, he'd never once in his middle-aged life seen "South Pacific." I shouldn't be surprised; I took him to see "Mame" last year and he'd mentioned then it was his first live musical.

Yes, I had myself an enchanted evening virgin.

The last time I'd seen this play live, it had been at the Landmark and no less a magnificent voice than Robert Goulet had played Emile, the handsome French planter. Fabulous as that touring production had been (just hearing him live had been a thrill), it wasn't like seeing talent I knew in classic roles.

I can't convey how satisfying it was to see the multi-talented Matt Shofner as one of the seabees singing "Nothin' Like a Dame." Now that's acting. Just as impressive was Audra Honaker with her impish demeanor and beautiful voice as one of the nurses. Nicole Oberleitner oozed sass and sex whether she was front and center or off to the side striking a pose.

And speaking of the nurses, during the "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair" number, the women wore fabulous '40s-style bathing suits that were the talk of the ladies' room during intermission.

My only observation was that there weren't many '40s-era bodies with hips and curves to go along with those era-appropriate costumes. Let's face it, women's figures just aren't what they used to be.

Ditto wardrobes. In the remember when category, one of the nurse's lines alluded to the fact that the Navy only allowed them to bring two evening gowns overseas with them. How many women today even own one? I do have one long dress but I'm not certain it would qualify as an evening gown.

Waiting in line for the ladies room gave me a chance to check out the framed newspaper articles from the Richmond Times Dispatch, Chicago Tribune and Honolulu State Bulletin hanging in the hallway, all of them actual copies from the war years. Overheard in line: "My nephew is in Wilco. Have you heard of them?" and soon after, "Well, yes, but Paul McCartney's still playing live and he's in his '70s."

So he's not younger than Springtime. Still, I heard it was a terrific show.

As my companion pointed out, it would have also been nice to have some maps hanging there, too, for a geography lesson to go along with the history lesson to clarify all these islands' locations in the play.

I was happy to hear that my date was very much enjoying the play, although still adjusting somewhat to the notion of a musical and actors singing so much of the plot. "It's such a great story!" he raved, admitting he was completely engrossed in the saga as it unfolded.

He was lucky to be seeing such a fine production. Both leads, Branch Fields and Stacey Cabel, were spot-on as the lovers from different sides of the world. Her Arkansas accent came and went occasionally but his French one never wavered and his bass voice was the kind that does things to a woman. It didn't hurt the appeal that the sets were so evocative of the South Seas with bamboo screens, palm trees and the illusion of water and sand on the island.

Because he's recently out of a relationship, my date admitted that half the time lately, he's been trying to avoid romantic entertainment. The other half, he's been seeking it out. "I'm just too much of a romantic," he said with a shrug, explaining why he was enjoying this so much.

Join the club, honey bun. From "A Wonderful Guy" to "This Nearly Was Mine," a person inclined to romance could pretty much melt into her seat the entire time.

Let's just say it was some enchanted evening.

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