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‘South Pacific’ heats up ONU summer theatre

South Pacific

"South Pacific" has everyone feeling the heat at Ohio Northern University. Maybe it's the illusion of sandy beaches and sultry ocean air. Perhaps it's the thrill of producing one of the most beloved musicals of all time, in one month no less. Or it could be the fiery issues stirred up by the play itself - two love stories set against a background of war and prejudice.

Despite the pressures, Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific," which debuts Thursday, Aug. 28, is coming together smoothly at Ohio Northern's Freed Center for the Performing Arts.

Sophomore standout Cassie Rea, who is stepping into the lead role of Nellie Forbush, is energized by the time crunch. "I feel very blessed," she says of her chance to play the spunky Arkansas nurse. "It's such a great opportunity."

Rea, a musical theatre major from Westerville, Ohio, has graced the ONU stage with small roles in the annual "Holiday Spectacular," "Little Women," and last winter's student-directed one-act plays.

"I started in Columbus Children's Theatre at age 10 and had an amazing time," says Rea, who hopes to make her career on the stage or at least in front of a camera. "I just love performing," she says, clearly excited about the challenge of playing Nellie.

"Nellie's transformation is intriguing," says Rea. "She falls in love with Emile de Becque, a French man twice her age, because he seems exotic. While her closed-mindedness threatens their happiness, her experience in the South Pacific ultimately makes her an accepting woman."

Set during World War II, "South Pacific" focuses on the deep-set prejudices that linger beneath the sunshiny veneer, prejudices that still find a home in 21st-century society.

"People think of ‘South Pacific' as an old-time musical, but the issues it presents are relevant today. It's a classic for a reason. It set the tone for the modern musical," Rea says, alluding to the long-standing popularity of the show and its wildly successful Broadway revival.

"Director Renee Dobson has done a great job retaining the integrity of the musical," Rea says of the Northern adaptation. "It sticks to the show's roots but leaves room for creativity."

A well-suited cast also makes the play come alive. "Everyone is perfectly suited for their roles," says Rea, giving nods to her fellow cast mates. "Luther Billis, played by Michael Doyle, has his character down pat, and his humor is spot-on. Lance Ashmore, who plays Emile, is absolutely incredible and so fun to work with. Plus, Matt Zimmerman and Lucy Anders have done a good job creating the chemistry between their characters, Lt. Joseph Cable and Liat."

With an endearing mix of musical and drama - and a coconut bra or two - "South Pacific" will be a red-hot start to the ONU theatre season.

"Everything fits," says Rea. "The musical numbers are fun. Everyone is excited to perform, and that will reflect on stage. Come see it!"