"South Pacific" was a late-summer joke that has turned into a partly surreal and wonderful exercise for director Derrick Hopkins.When "Always Patsy Cline" was nixed from his winter schedule due to exorbitant royalties, Hopkins joked with Broadway performer Leslie Hearn about having her and her Tony and Emmy Award-winning husband, George, star in "South Pacific.""She said, 'I want that. Can that happen?'" Hopkins said. "I just made this joke. Within a week, I had gone to the Essex Theatre Board and got permission to pursue it further with SUNY."The ETC's home venue, the Masonic Lodge, was out. It's not heated in the winter."SUNY has a great venue. They have Giltz, which is gorgeous. It was that simple."The Plattsburgh State Music Department and the ETC present "South Pacific" Friday and Saturday.The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic stars George Hearn (Enile De Becque), Leslie Hearn (Nellie Forebush), Susan Richards (Bloody Mary), Peter Gonyo (Lt. Joe Cable), John Shout (Capt. Brackett) and Tim Palkovic (Luther Billis). Music director is Timothy Morningstar. Orchestra director is Joe Ellen Miano. Mallory Valk is choreographer.Hopkins secured the Hearns in August and planned the show within a month. Auditions were held in October.
"It has been pretty intense. It has been a very quick process. I started meeting with all the leads in January. Life has been 'South Pacific' since August on top of my other shows that I have been doing."Between 75 and 100 people — professional actors, students and community members — auditioned for more than 50 roles in the concert-black show (with an over-sized sailor suit and grass skirt with coconut bra exceptions)."The collaboration has been really great. I haven't felt alone in the process. Sometimes you feel all the weight of the show on a select group of people. The pressure of the show is diffused. You have these two organizations working together."When Hopkins first met the Hearns in 2003, he asked them if they had ever done a musical together. They hadn't. He asked George what musical he had wanted to do: "South Pacific.""I've always loved the show," George said. "I did it once down at Lincoln Center for a fundraiser. I love the songs, beautiful scores, great story."The Hearns celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary on Saturday. They met in La Cage Aux Folles on Broadway."We've never done romantic leads together," George said. "It's a great treat for us. The cast is wonderful. There's a couple of teachers (Shout and Palkovic) from SUNY. They're just wonderful. There are some kids in it. It's woven in the school and the theater scene around here which is considerable."The Hearns left the klieg lights behind six or seven years now to raise their two sons in a more ecological environment on a gentleman's 50-acre farm, raising grapes and apples.
"We're having a great time," George said. "To balance this with continuing life in theater is really thrilling."Hopkins studied with Miano, Shout and Palkovic while a student at Plattsburgh State. Now, he's directing and collaborating with his former profs."The initial rehearsals were a little weird trying to adjust but it didn't take long," Hopkins said. "It's the same thing working with George. You're directing a two-time Tony Award winner and an Emmy winner, and here I teach second grade. After the first couple of rehearsals you realize, you have your job to do. You can't think about those things."SUNY Fredonia senior Mallory Valk choreographed the show, which features light ballet and tap."She's graduating from Fredonia in theater and minors in dance," Hopkins said. "This is about to put a really big notch in her belt. She's done a great job mixing it up to find some freshness in an old show."As music director, Morningstar prepared the music and working on refinement, interpretation and dramatic aspects of the music."'South Pacific' the score is incredibly beautiful," said Morningstar, who teaches at the University of Vermont and Plattsburgh State. "It's very eclectic, exotic melodies evoking the sense of the South Pacific. It's great collaborating with Jo Ellen Miano. We're having a really enjoyable time getting ready for the performance. She's a great conductor."Working with the Hearns has been an exciting and open experience for Morningstar and his Musical Theater students.
"A lot of the performers in the production have taken that survey course," Morningstar said. "For them to see a musical come to life through a rehearsal process and the caliber George and Leslie bring and immediacy to that, brings it to life. For them to observe George and Leslie's process was a real gift and learning experience for them."