'South Pacific' no breeze

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

When Central High School's Sarah Goeke opens her mouth to sing "Cockeyed Optimist," her voice is barely audible above the orchestra. Orchestra director Steve Schaffner asks if her microphone is on. "It's flashing low battery," she tells him.

Technical director Joe Bradshaw comes to the rescue and adjusts Goeke's microphone while she continues on with the scene, but no such scenario will be acceptable Thursday night. That's when Goeke will perform in front of an audience who came to see the opening night performance of the high school's production of "South Pacific." There can be no low battery then.

This is an example of why director Cynthia Bradshaw has been, well, frazzled during the two weeks leading up to the first show.

"South Pacific" has not been an easy undertaking for her or the students.

Musicals require more coordination than plays, and with "South Pacific," 39 students need to be coordinated into scenes full of song and dance.

Off the stage, students in the school orchestra are working hard on the musical score, while other students deal with lighting, sound and set design.

The week before opening night, students rehearse while shadows are being painted on the set's palm trees. They continue rehearsing when microphones start emitting loud popping sounds, and they continue rehearsing with incorrect lighting and without background music to guide the singing.

It was only the Saturday before opening night that a full rehearsal with costumes and an orchestra was staged. Suddenly, the performance everyone has been working so hard on for over a month is a reality.

The last Central High School musical, "Annie Get Your Gun," was performed two years ago. This year, Cynthia Bradshaw and Schaffner picked "South Pacific."

"We both thought it just felt right," Cynthia Bradshaw said.

It presented some casting challenges "Annie Get Your Gun" did not. "South Pacific" calls for numerous males to play sailors and Marines. But come audition time at Central, not enough guys were interested.

That's when Cynthia Bradshaw asked her drama students to recruit all the male students they could find.

Clayton Hill was drafted.

Although he just wanted a small part, Hill was cast as Luther Billis, the show's comic relief. A friend of Hill's, Sarah Goeke, said "South Pacific" needed a few good young men.

"So I came, I sang and here I am," he said.

Hill also is participating in track this spring. He will sit out track the week of the performance.

"I go from school to track to here. I have no free time," he said. Yet being part of "South Pacific" has been a great experience, he said. "I like being in front of people and making them laugh."

Premiere in 1949

"South Pacific" does make people laugh and smile, but it also has a more serious side that might bring tears to some in the audience.

This Rodgers and Hammerstein musical premiered on Broadway in 1949. It became the second-longest running musical of the decade and the second musical to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for drama. In 1958, it was made into a film.

It follows two love stories set against the backdrop of World War II in the Pacific.

Nellie, played by Goeke, is a military nurse who falls in love with a French planter named Emile, played by T.J. Bishop. The relationship becomes complicated when Nellie learns more about Emile. Her prejudices make her question the relationship.

Meanwhile, Lt. Cable arrives on the island to put together a spy post to be used against the Japanese. He falls in love with an island girl.

Both men must leave the women they love behind to face a dangerous mission on a nearby island.

Catherine Moreton plays Bloody Mary. With her red hair, fair skin and slight build, Moreton looks nothing like the large Polynesian woman she portrays, yet as she stepped on stage during a rehearsal last week, Moreton's voice and demeanor changed accordingly.

Moreton was new to the world of "South Pacific" when she signed on, as was Clay Schermann, who plays Cable.

"The first thing I did was rent the movie," Schermann said. This role also presented him with his first vocal solo.

"It challenged my voice," he said.

Goeke claimed the lead role of Nellie right when she auditioned, Cynthia Bradshaw said. "She just got up there and read, and nobody could compete with her."

Singing and performing come naturally for Goeke, whose parents both teach vocal music at Southeast Missouri State University.

"When I told my parents, they were very excited," she said. "It has been quite an experience, and I'm really enjoying it, but I never realized it was this much work."

Others would be likely to agree.

"The biggest problem is the schedules," Cynthia Bradshaw said. Students who are in "South Pacific" are also busy with sports like track, girls swimming, baseball and tennis -- not to mention homework.

Garrett Ozbun, who plays Professor, worked on his chemistry homework backstage Monday before the show's opening.

"We're out there in the dark between scenes trying to do our homework," he said. "It's just so hard because you're so tired, so exhausted from every day."

When rehearsals started in February, they lasted 3 1/2 hours, but as opening night got closer rehearsals started running five or six hours. In addition to his acting duties, Ozbun has been helping out with the set, "doing whatever I can to make the show work."

He sacrificed participating in track this season so he could be in "South Pacific."

"It's something I always wanted to do," Ozbun said of performing.

The students are not the only ones who have put in a lot of hours on "South Pacific." Director Cynthia Bradshaw and technical director Joe Bradshaw have been working 55 to 60 hours a week between their time as teachers and working on the production.

After she finishes teaching art at Central Junior High School, Alison Rademaker has been in charge of painting the sets. At least 10 students have assisted her with the painting, which she said she wanted to make bold enough for the audience to see yet still realistic.

"Some of the high school kids get here at 2:30 p.m., I leave at 7 p.m. and some of them are still here," Rademaker said of her student assistants. "It has been a big production."

Three moveable and reversible pieces of the set had to be built for the production.

"The big challenge has been getting them on and off the stage because they're so large," Joe Bradshaw said.

The Bradshaws respond differently to the countdown to opening night.

Joe Bradshaw is confident the production will be ready to go on Thursday. The same confidence, however, cannot be found in his wife, and he knows that.

"This is our ninth show together," Joe Bradshaw said. "I can sit you down and draw you a schedule of her emotions."

Cynthia Bradshaw said her nerves continue up until the night of the show, when she realizes that her part in the production is finished.

"At some point I can feel myself saying, 'It's out of my hands. It's in your hands now,'" she said. "I'm ready for it to open. I'm always so relaxed when it opens. When I first sit in my seat, I start missing it."

kalfisi@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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