The show’s weak point, unfortunately, was Jennifer Swiderski in the pivotal role of Nellie Forbush, the “cockeyed optimist” nurse from Little Rock, AK. The Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel grader her performance as lacking spark: in the performance we saw, she was working hard and evidently giving her all, but the sparks just weren’t striking. She is a strong, energetic, and skillful dancer, no problems there. She has guts: in the staging of “Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair,” she actually got her hair wet under the practical shower and finished the scene that way. Her voice is good for musical theatre and fills the hall. However, her apparent concession to vocal characterization was to occasionally hit a word with an unattractive flat nasality that someone must have told her was “Midwestern.” Knowing some genuine Arkansans, their accent is nothing like that, and shame on the Skylight’s directors for letting that through. She also, as was famously complained of Katharine Hepburn in one role, “ran the gamut of emotions from A to B.” She gets across Nellie as cheerful and chipper just fine: however, shock and horror when confronted with De Becque’s native children only worked out as mild confusion; what should have been shared grief at the death of Joe Cable showed only as modest concern. Since these are two of the show’s most dramatic moments, the performance was robbed of much potential luster.
The supporting cast of sailors and nurses sang and danced well, and the Skylight orchestra was in good form. Another production plus was the montage of images from World War II in the Pacific theatre that were projected during the overture. A downcheck was the apparent lack of a Makeup supervisor. Not only was “Nellie” let on stage with a makeup that was noticeably pale for Wisconsin, let alone someone who has been on a South Pacific island for months, but there was no particular attempt to be uniform in the rest of the cast either, such that the one “Marine” who had a realistic sunburn stood out.
“South Pacific” is a classic of the American musical theatre and contains some of its most beautiful and rousing music. The Skylight’s production is well worth taking in, despite its flaws.