Local Broadway fans demand a ‘South Pacific Sing’

Due to the success of the “Rodgers & Hammerstein Sing” in April, the Reynolds Mansion in Bellefonte will host another musical engagement with a “South Pacific Sing” from June 1-2. The sing-along will again be led by former Bellefonte and State College area school district choral director Jessie Barth, with accompaniment by Carol Lindsay on percussion and innkeeper Tricia Andriaccio on piano. While last month’s sing-along included songs from various Rodgers and Hammerstein productions, this time the focus is on one musical in particular.

“South Pacific” is a moving musical composed by Richard Rodgers, with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan. The work premiered on Broadway in 1949, teaching moral lessons and portraying racial prejudice long before the civil rights movement made visible changes in the U.S. The plot centers on an American nurse stationed at a U.S. Naval base on a South Pacific island during World War II who falls in love with an expatriate French plantation owner but who struggles to accept his mixed-race children.

The musical features many Rodgers and Hammerstein favorites, including “Some Enchanted Evening,” “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy.” As with the previous sing, there will be opportunities for people to lead the singing, read thoughts written by the composers and share individual stories related to the songs.

The readings are personal stories about Hammerstein and his life and works that Barth has gathered from her own personal experiences meeting and talking to people who knew him. Barth has held sings at Highland Farm, the historic home of Hammerstein in Doylestown, Bucks County.

“The idea of a show-based sing evolved naturally – almost like it was supposed to be,” she said. “I thought it would be such a rich experience to be singing songs from the show that came to life in the very house where we had gathered to sing.”

Carolyn Johnson, a retired assistant professor in human development and family studies at Penn State for 26 years, is a member of the State College Choral Society. A native of Bucks County, Johnson took piano lessons for many years growing up, sang solos in school concerts and plays, sang in church and community choirs, and was an accompanist for her church’s children’s choir.

“Jessie’s deep love for the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein infuses her audience with joy,” Johnson said. “She invites you to leave your comfort zone and gently nudges your best self forward. I was amazed at my mediocre voice blossoming in joy and enthusiasm for the music and the company.”

Johnson is familiar with the “South Pacific” songbook, particularly with the tunes “Happy Talk” and “Younger than Springtime.”

“I love the movie and music in ‘South Pacific,’ ” she said. “I’m also looking forward to ‘Bali Ha’i’ and ‘Some Enchanted Evening.’ The music and lyrics strike deep chords and bring back many warm memories of my childhood growing up in the Philadelphia area.”

Laurie Lynch wrote a blog about last month’s sing-along, and talked about the happiness it brought her mother as the room became filled with songs, laughter and reminiscences.

“If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from my mother’s dementia, it is the lasting richness of music,” she said. “The first thing my mother lost from the disease was her ability to cook. But music, it is her joy. It doesn’t matter if she’s dancing the waltz or the cha-cha, she floats with the music.”

Sam Rocco, a music teacher at Mount Nittany Middle School, said he has always been an ardent fan of the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Rocco sang in his high school choir, and has also directed and played the scores of all the big Rodgers and Hammerstein shows, including “Oklahoma,” “Carousel” and a production of “South Pacific” at Mount Nittany two years ago.

“The sing in April was truly one enchanted evening,” he said. “It was great to sit and sing all those songs from all those shows because it provided an opportunity to get the flavor of each one without concentrating on the different stories.”

Rocco said he was impressed with how well the folks in the audience knew all the songs, and the stories they shared about their personal experiences with the shows.

Based on the success of the last sing-along and the complete joy and enthusiasm that it brought out in those who attended and participated, Johnson said she expects more of the same this time around.

“I am expecting a lot of audience participation and inspiration this time, as there was last time, and opportunities for singing solos in small groups, large group, and reading opportunities as well,” she said.

“I’m interested in human harmony,” Barth said. “And as Hammerstein was a real humanitarian, ‘South Pacific’ is a good venue to talk about how we can all learn to get along with each other. I have always loved Hammerstein’s philosophy of optimism and hope and try to live and share it with others.”