The Southern California director at the helm of San Diego Musical Theatre's "South Pacific," opening later this month, hopes to bring out the show's compelling storylines and beautiful music when staging a local production of the beloved show.
"South Pacific," tells the stories of two intercultural love stories on an idyllic South Pacific island during World War II.
With music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan, the classic musical won 10 Tony Awards when it first opened on Broadway decades ago. The musical is based on James A. Michener's collection of short stories, "Tales of the South Pacific."
It's the type of show, explains Director Kirsten Chandler, where theatergoers will recognize almost every song.
"All these songs, they're so iconic, they not only serve the story, they also stand on their own as one of the great songs in the great American songbook," Chandler said.
Chandler was familiar with the musical in the same way many audience members will be familiar with the show when they head down to The Historic Horton Grande Theatre: she had seen the show a few times throughout her life and knew the music, but she had never studied it as a director or dug into the book.
When Chandler approached directing SDMT's production, she came to realize the show was more than the big, showy numbers.
"For all the amazing numbers, and some of them are huge - you know, 'There's Nothing Like a Dame,' big iconic production numbers - it really is an intimate story," Chandler said.
The show also has some racial undertones, Chandler said, which makes the story relevant even today.
"I don't want to give too much away for the audience, and want them to experience it for themselves, but some of the lessons that the main characters go through have to do with that - preconceptions about people whose culture and color is not our own," Chandler said "I think that those themes are very relevant now, to say the least."
Chandler worked with the actors one-on-one to bring out the nuance in the storyline and hook people on the compelling stories underlining the beautiful music.
"I think it's easy to rely on (big musical numbers) and want to get to those songs, but the stuff in between is where I brought out some nuance that made the song mean even more when you get to it," Chandler said.
Still, she said with a chuckle, one of her favorite moments in the show is a lighter number, where a group of men dressed as Marines sing.
There are these amazing singers/actors/dancers that play the bunch of Marines, and when they're all together singing about the glory of women, that's pretty hard to top," Chandler said, laughing.
Sometimes, with big shows like South Pacific, audiences tend to check out a little bit until the next big flashy number, Chandler said.
Her hope is that when people come to see her production at the Horton Grand, they see the substance over the flash. Her interpretation of the musical, she said, relies on bringing the brilliance on the page to life.
"My take on it is very classic, in the sense that I want to honor what was originally written and not try to put my stamp on it to such an extent that I forget why it was there in the first place," Chandler said.
She hopes audiences will come to see the show, fall in love with the characters and fall in love with the beautiful music and story.
"I would be so happy if people were compelled by the characters themselves and the journey they go on, which I think makes the whole experience so much richer," Chandler said.
San Diego Musical Theatre's "South Pacific" plays from April 27 to May 27 at the Horton Grand Theatre. To learn more and buy tickets, click here.