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Gray Areas: Canfield native dazzled in ‘South Pacific’

I spent the weekend going to see many of the events I previewed in last week’s Ticket.

Trumbull New Theatre’s production of “The Mousetrap” got a full review in Sunday’s paper, so I won’t rehash it here, but the Agatha Christie mystery is very well done and runs for two more weekends. Don’t miss it.

Easy Street Productions and the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra replicated the formula they established last February with “Guys & Dolls in Concert” with two concert performances of “South Pacific” at Powers Auditorium.

My wife thought “South Pacific” surpassed “G&D.” I give a slight edge to “Guys & Dolls.”

I fully acknowledge the Pulitzer Prize-winning “South Pacific” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II is the more accomplished musical and has a stronger score, and the 20-plus musicians led by Randall Craig Fleischer captured that score in all of its beauty.

But “Guys & Dolls” is such a fun show and I think it lent itself better to the looser, concert-presentation format. A bit of the dramatic impact of “South Pacific” was lost in the streamlined presentation.

What I’ll remember most about the production is Elysia Jordan’s performance as Ensign Nellie Forbush. The Canfield native, who spent 2018 on the road as part of the first national tour for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “School of Rock,” played Sgt. Sarah Brown in “Guys & Dolls,” and she was great in that, but I was blown away by the performance at Sunday’s matinee.

Jordan (whose given name is Elysia Jordan Shutrump) brought a seemingly effortless grace to songs like “A Cockeyed Optimist,” “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” and “This Is How It Feels.” She captured all the melodic nuances of the songs, but made those songs feel as casual and comfortable as the dialogue between them.

In contrast, David Toole showed he’s a remarkable singer as Lt. Joe Cable, but the trained, deep voice he sang with had little in common with Cable’s speaking voice. It’s not a knock on Toole. It’s pretty common in musical theater.

Instead of me hearing the training in her voice, Jordan made Nellie bursting out into song sound like the most natural thing in the world. It’s a rare gift, and I hope she keeps coming back for these collaborations to share it.

As he did with “Guys & Dolls,” Easy Street co-founder Todd Hancock used projections on video screens rather than expensive sets to establish location, and the projection didn’t skimp on costumes and other elements that bring the show closer to a fully staged production than audiences might expect from the name “South Pacific in Concert.”

Having 25 guys, led by John Cox as Luther Billis, on stage singing “There’s Nothing Like a Dame,” made it one of the show’s highlights, and choreographer Megan Cleland added some action to numbers like “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” and “Honey Bun.”

Based on the first two offerings, I hope Easy Street and YSO keep these collaborations coming.

I went to the matinee instead of the Sunday evening performance so I could catch the tour kick off for Anthony LaMarca’s The Building on Saturday at Westside Bowl.

LaMarca, who is a member of the Grammy-winning band The War on Drugs when he’s not focused on his own music, has been getting some acclaim for The Building’s latest release, “Petra,” which is being released by national label Concord Records, but also bears the logo of Youngstown’s Peppermint Records.

The live set maintained the quiet intensity of the album while opening up the arrangements more. Electric guitar replaced or augmented the nylon-string acoustic sound of the recordings, and LaMarca’s backing band (which includes Dean Anshutz of Red Wanting Blue on drums and Sam Buonavolonta of Sam Goodwill on guitar and keyboards) added some additional colors. LaMarca’s understated sense of humor between songs also lightened the mood.

The band will be touring cross-country most of November. The album definitely is worth checking out, but it’s not background music. Give it your full attention, and the rewards are immense.

Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at agray@tribtoday .com.