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Caleb Skinner hopes the audience will leave the Boykin Center humming after seeing “South Pacific.”
Maybe the words to “Bloody Mary” will stay on their mind or the catchy tune in “There is Nothing Like a Dame.”
Skinner, who is directing the play and conducting the orchestra, wants the audience to be entertained at the annual summer show presented by the Arts Council of Wilson and Barton College.
But he also knows they will also leave the theater thinking about the themes of race relations and bigotry.
The Rogers and Hammerstein musical is set in the South Pacific islands during World War II and is highly regarded in American musical theater history and in Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein’s collaborative work.
“I think it’s their masterpiece,” Skinner said. “Of their work together, this show really epitomizes what they did.”
The storyline revolves around American nurse Nellie Forbush and expatriate French plantation owner Emile de Becque, who fall in love. But Nellie decides she can’t be with Emile because he has mixed-race children.
A second story line involves a U.S. lieutenant, Cable, who falls in love with a Tonkinese woman, Liat. His prejudices keep him from being with her because she is not white.
Skinner points out that “South Pacific” opened on Broadway in 1949 and those same issues are still prevalent today.
“We still don’t like loving people who are different than us in any way,” he said.
The cast is a mix of local and regional actors and musicians, Skinner said.
Nellie and Emile are played by Kate Brittain and Lincoln Manning. Matthew Joyner and Briah Pack play Cable and Liat.
Included in the cast are four children who alternate the roles of Emile’s young children, Ngana and Jerome, played by Anna Breen and Patrick Breen, and Braillen Hill and Benjamin Winders.
INSPIRING YOUNG ACTORS
Skinner, a 2012 graduate of Hunt High School, is no stranger to the Boykin Center stage. A classically-trained singer and actor, Skinner appeared in ACT! for Youth shows as well as several of the previous summer shows including “Music Man,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat,” “Shrek” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”
“And now I’m back directing,” he said.
He’s returned to Wilson this summer after graduating in May with a master’s degree in vocal performance from the University of Kentucky.
While rehearsals are taking place in the evenings for “South Pacific,” you might have seen him at Boykin Center during the day this summer directing “Lion King Kids Experience” and “101 Dalmations Kids” for the Arts Council of Wilson’s summer camps. He also performed in “Three Tenors and Mo,” in a Summer Sounds benefit concert for the Arts Council at the Boykin Center.
Skinner said he is grateful for these opportunities this summer and laughs when he remembers telling his parents he would be bored back home this summer.
In addition to his instruction in undergraduate and graduate school, he said he learned so much from Jeremy Tucker, former director of the summer shows, and Trish Bradshaw. Bradshaw is a local dance school owner who choreographs many shows in the region, including the current one. Skinner said he considers Bradshaw a co-director with “South Pacific.”
People in Wilson are helping him propel his career, he said. And he’s hoping he might be able to return the favor. “I want to help inspire people the way I was inspired. I want to be that for young people.”
He’s not sure what he will do next but would love to be back on stage.
“My first love is performing,” he said.
Teaching is another option.
But for now, he’s concentrating on the job at hand — getting “South Pacific” ready for its run July 19-22.
The summer community musical is usually regarded as the best show of the year for the Arts Council, he said. There’s more time to work on it because school is out. Barton also has more time, he added, and is doing its part. Adam Twiss, director of Theatre at Barton is producer.
As with all productions, there are some challenges. The set is big and has moving parts, he said. But there’s little room backstage at the Boykin Center. The pit is also small for the live orchestra that Skinner will also be conducting.
There’s also the challenge of learning the songs correctly. Skinner said he is giving abbreviated voice lessons, almost, toward that goal.
For instance, “Some Enchanted Evening,” performed by Emile, has to be gorgeous, he said. “It’s the cornerstone of the show in many ways.”
Skinner is excited about a fun aspect of the show. When he was hired as director, he had a major request for the scene featuring the song, “I’m Gonna to Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair.”
He told them, he wanted a working shower on stage.
“I’m going to get it!” he said. “I can’t wait to see how it works out.”
The costumes for this show will range from beautiful island attire to military uniforms. Skinner said they will strive to be as authentic as possible. In fact, one night cast members spent 15 minutes learning the correct way to salute from current and former military personnel who are in the show.