Playing Emile de Becque in South Pacific requires at least two things: a strong bass voice and a face that suggests both wisdom and experience.
“I have gracefully aged into the role,” said Steve Leifer, who will play the male lead in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” opening Friday at the Schenectady Light Opera Company.
“I grew up watching the movie, and it’s a very good role for my voice range. I’m a bass, it’s a great musical, so I’m ready. Give me those low notes.”
While Schenectady audiences the next two weekends will be listening to music by America’s most prolific songwriting team, the work of Broadway’s comic genius, Neil Simon, will be on display at Albany Civic Theater in a production of “Proposals.”
“South Pacific” made its Broadway debut in 1949 and was a smash, running for nearly 2,000 performances while earning 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Score.
The show was based on the 1947 Pulitzer Prize winner by James Michener, “Tales of the South Pacific,” and a number of the songs produced by Rodgers and Hammerstein, including “Some Enchanted Evening,” “This Nearly was Mine” and “Younger Than Springtime,” are firmly embedded in the American Songbook. The musical was also praised for its serious subject matter: race relations.
’South Pacific’ and ’Proposals’
WHERE: Schenectady Light Opera Company, 427 Franklin St., Schenectady
WHEN: Opens 8 p.m. Friday and runs through Feb. 15; performance times are 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $28-$18
MORE INFO: 1-877-350-7378, www.sloctheater.org
WHERE: Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Ave., Albany
WHEN: Opens Sierra Lynch (Josie), Rick Reed (Burt) 7:30 p.m. Friday and runs through Feb. 22; performance times are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $15-$10
MORE INFO: 462-1297, www.albanycivictheater.org
“I think it’s probably more relevant than ever before,” said Leifer. “With the issues around race relations in America right now, it’s extremely pertinent. ‘South Pacific’ is about a clash of civilizations, and we’re seeing that in the news daily these days.”
A Brooklyn native and Scotia resident, Leifer has been on Capital Region stages for more than two decades. In “South Pacific,” he plays de Becque, a middle-aged French expatriate and widower who owns a plantation on a remote island in the South Pacific. While raising his mixed-race children during World War II, de Becque falls in love with a U.S. Navy nurse named Nellie Forbush, played by Heather-Liz Copps.
“I saw the Lincoln Center revival of the play at Proctors and I enjoyed it very much,” said Leifer, who will star as Ben Hecht in “Moonlight and Magnolias” later this year at the Colonial Little Theatre in Johnstown. “It’s still relevant today, it’s still an important show, and then there’s the music.”
“This Nearly Was Mine” is his favorite song from the show, says Leifer, who played opposite Copps in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” at SLOC in February of 2013.
Peter Caracappa is directing “South Pacific,” which also stars Tyler Thomas as Lt. Joe Cable and Elizabeth Sherwood-Mack as Bloody Mary.
In Albany, “Proposals” centers on a family reunion of sorts set in the Pocono Mountains in 1953. Rick Reed plays Burt, Sierra Lynch is his daughter Josie, and Doreen Watson plays Clemma, the family’s housekeeper.
The play, not one of Simon’s more well-known works, opened on Broadway in 1997. Steve Foust is directing this production, which also includes Earl V. Belcher, Jason Biszick, Annie Bunce, Matt DeMarco, Jeff Lurie and Diane Piegare.
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]