IN Review: South Pacific at Candlelight

South Pacific The Candlelight Theatre

It’s 2019, and The Candlelight Theatre is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season, currently staging the musical South Pacific which is celebrating its 70th anniversary. Milestones like this matter in a world in which 60% of all TV shows get cancelled before season two and 70% of all restaurants close within 3-5 years. To have a quality dinner theatre as the heartbeat of your community—it’s located in the big, red barn of the farm bought to create Ardentown—is quite the boon. That heart is still beating strong.

Candlelight Dinner Theatre is somewhat unique in the way that the actors of the show start the evening as waitstaff. They take drink orders and clear tables, but the magic of their station is to make every theatergoer feel as though they have backstage passes. “I didn’t realize that we had Luther Billis serving us. He’s good!” I overheard one man saying during intermission. In the sold-out performance, I sat at a table with a veteran musical aficionado and a woman who was attending the Candlelight for the first time. She firstly marveled that we were staying cool during the intense heat wave. (It was an old barn after all, which makes for great ambiance but comes with all the challenges of a repurposed building.) And so, feeling cool and a little superior over those attending outdoor cultural events, we turned our attention to the food. The shrimp with cocktail sauce on the salad bar was a big draw, as was the beef, hand-carved by another of the night’s performers. The menu also included, among other delights, a vegetarian lasagna and, in a nod to the show, a coconut risotto. The bar featured among its specialty mixed drinks a sangria and an intriguing blue cocktail, a riff on a Mai Tai. My tablemates and I settled for large pours of white wine and iced tea, later switching to coffee to enjoy our cheesecake. The buffet showcased many other scrumptious-looking desserts, but…cheesecake! Enough said.

As for the show? South Pacific, considered one of the best of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals, is a fan favorite and logical choice in an anniversary season. It is light on choreography, heavy on memorable tunes, and carries a message about racism and bigotry that, unfortunately, is still relevant seventy years later. South Pacific came out in 1949, when the United States was flush from its triumph in World War II, and while it exhibits the patriotism of the era, it is anything but a frivolous victory dance. The Candlelight opened its production with an abridged recording of the overture (no live orchestra here) and projected black-and-white historical photographs of actual war-time occupation of the South Pacific. The curtains rose to reveal sets that  were monotone beige and textured, with the exception of an almost iridescent image of Bali Hai island and surrounding azure ocean projected on the backdrop. This contrast, along with the dramatic lighting, set the stage (literally) for a show that balances love in a paradisal setting with the savagery of war and bigotry. Costumes did the same, with the juxtaposition of military uniforms and vintage beach attire/sarongs speaking to the simultaneity of circumstances.

As a local production, it was well-cast. (My experienced, theatergoer tablemate agreed.) Anchoring as leads were Peter Campbell as Emile de Becque and Colleen Clancy as Nellie Forbush. Campbell brought his operatic resumé to his performance which gave his portrayal of Emile de Becque a formality and boom that suited the character as a wealthy plantation owner emigrated from France. His performance of Some Enchanted Evening could be felt, as well as heard. Colleen Clancy looked the part, as if she sprang from a Rosie the Riveter poster or that photo of the sailor kissing the woman on V-J Day in Times Square. More than just her physicality, Clancy inhabited her role as a “hick” nurse from Little Rock and gave an ardent vocal performance which complemented Campbell’s formidable voice in duets (Twin Soliloquies, This is How is Feels) and created its own spell over the audience in solos (A Wonderful Guy, I’m Going to Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair). The supporting cast buttressed the story with standout performances by Angelica Feliciano (Bloody Mary), Robert Miller (Capt. George Bracket) and Jared Calhoun (Luther Billis). And I am not just plugging Jared because he was our waiter and I am on a first name basis with him now. (I am still trying to figure out how he so quickly changed into his coconut shell bra moments after settling my bill at intermission.)

Tickets for South Pacific are selling fast, so if you want to see the show before it closes August 25th, buy them now. Looking ahead, The Candlelight Theatre has two more shows left in its 50th Anniversary season. I, for one, am excited about Catch Me If You Can, the musical based on the 2002 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and real-life antics of Frank Abagnale. That show runs September 14-October 20, 2019. Closing out the season is the Christmas by Candlelight, a musical celebration featuring holiday tunes and other surprises which runs November 16 to December 22, 2019.

IN addition, the Candlelight Theatre has other entertainment options. Join the fun on the third Monday every month for Quizzo, trivia night. No reservations necessary. A $5 cover charge will get you table snacks and sodas. Wildwich Food Café Food Truck is on hand for food purchases. On the third Thursday of every month, The Candlelight Theatre moonlights as a comedy club, presenting two nationally-touring comedians each month. Your $30 Pay-at-the-door ticket also includes a light-fare buffet. A cash bar is available at both events. For both Quizzo and Comedy night, doors open at 6:30 PM with festivities beginning at 7 PM.

For tickets and information, check out The Candlelight Theatre website or call 302-475-2313. The Candlelight Theatre is located at 2208 Millers Road; Wilmington, DE 19810.