ROYAL CENTER — Two directors’ reverence for their veteran forebears passed on through education to their young performers comes to life onstage this weekend in Pioneer Theatre’s spring musical.
“South Pacific,” with music composed by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, will be performed Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Pioneer Jr.-Sr. High School. Set on a Pacific island during World War II, the production compiles several of the stories from “Tales of the South Pacific,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by James A. Michener. Both of the production’s directors speak admirably of family members with personal ties to this front of the war, which they used to enhance their teaching of the topic to the more than 35 students participating in the production both onstage and off.
“Although ‘South Pacific’ is a musical and somewhat of a comedy, it’s also one of the rare musicals of that time period that have a strong moral message dealing with cultural diversity and prejudice,” said Dan McDonald, co-director of the production.
McDonald and co-director Carol Loehrke both have relatives who served in World War II, including the South Pacific. McDonald said the performances are being dedicated to all who serve in the military, especially World War II veterans — a population that is rapidly depleting.
Loehrke’s father was stationed on a destroyer escort in the South Pacific around the same time and in the same vicinity the events of the musical are set.
“It’s very fascinating,” Loehrke said. “It makes this so personal to me.”
McDonald and Loehrke set out to make the experience as educational as possible for the students by sharing photographs and history pertaining to the events surrounding the musical’s plot.
Kirsten Breedlove, a senior, plays Nellie Forbush, a U.S. Navy nurse stationed on the island deeply committed to the war effort with what one lyric describes as a “cock-eyed optimism.”