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Mountain Play picnic adventure on Mt. Tam opens 101st season w/ 'South Pacific'

It’s Memorial weekend and the Mountain Play in the stone amphitheater atop Mount Tamalpais opened it’s 101st season with the tropical love story about overcoming prejudice for love as Americans fight the Japanese toward the end of World War II, “South Pacific” by Rodgers & Hammerstein. Mitzi Gaynor starred in the Oscar winning 1958 film shot in Hawaii, where she’s a spirited young Navy nurse Nellie who falls in love with a handsome ex-patriot Frenchman with a beautiful villa and two small children. Michener won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel.

L to R - Mia Klenk (as Liat), Lily Tung Crystal (as Bloody Mary), Tyler Costin (as Lt. Joseph Cable)
Robin McNally
L to R - Jayme Catalano (nurse), Greg Wolff (Cmdr. William Harbison), Robyn Grahn (nurse) and Jim Dunn (Capt. George Brackett)
Robin McNally

Taylor Chalker plays Nellie. Peter Vilkin plays Emile the Frenchman.

Randy Nazarian of Actors Equity plays Luther Billis.

Cast list here.

As a quick side note, it’s astounding to think how the world has changed in the 101 years since the Mountain Play began, World War I beginning in July of 1914 with the US joining the Allies in 1917. During World War II, the grounds were closed to the public since the US Army maintained operations on the site. Here’s a list of all 100 years, including productions of ‘Tamalpa’ from time to time early on. The theater performed ‘South Pacific’ in 1988 and 1997. Last year was ‘The Sound of Music’.

May 25 is Military Veteran Appreciation Day

Meanwhile. If one still remembers with a sigh the hair washing scene with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in the wilderness from ‘Out of Africa’, Gaynor had different ideas in 1958. Although the nurse meets the gentleman planter Emile, Emile Brazzi played by Giorgio Tozzi, she sings as she washes her hair outdoors at the camp that she’s gonna ‘Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair’.

However he’s singing ‘Some Enchanted Evening’.

Then there’s a take more recently by the Los Angeles Gay Man’s Chorus, on Youtube. The actual LGBT appreciation day at the Mountain Play is June 1, with an ensemble from the SF Gay Men’s Chorus called the Lolllipop Guild.

The cast of the 2008 revival however won a Tony.

Lily Tung Crystal as Bloody Mary

In any event. The story contains a parallel inter-racial love story. The tender romance happens between a handsome young military man Bill and an island girl younger than springtime. At first Bill sings about ‘The Girl Back Home’. Meanwhile the innocent beauty gets escorted by her hefty mother Bloody Mary, who gets the entrancing song about the magic and romance of the island calling, ‘Bali Ha’i’ as well as ‘Happy Talk’. That’s Juanita Hall in the film, from Broadway. Lily Tung Crystal of Actors Equity plays Bloody Mary in the Mountain Play this year.

When the young hero gets killed in action and the girl he loves ends up abandoned, Gaynor’s character gets a sobering wake up call. The woman moves past her own American innocence. She adopts a more European and sophisticated mentality, embracing her relationship with Emile. That includes the whole package, his being the widow of a South Pacific native who was the mother of Emile’s two young children.

The show does get some comic relief with the play within a play. Ray Walston in the film performs in the play within a play that Gaynor’s character stages for the men. He also played on vintage television as ‘My Favorite Martian’. Gaynor and Walston perform the duet ‘Honey Bun’ with Walston in coconut bra/grass skirt drag. Yup, he's the 'honey bun', like 'Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue'. Hootchy Kootchy Kootchy Koo.

The picnic

The Cushing Amphitheater holds 4000 stone seats, sits 2000 feet or eight miles up Mount Tamalpais.

Parking remains extremely limited and the theater runs shuttle buses, school buses actually, from Mill Valley. The shuttles will also cart patrons’ picnic baskets for those patrons who decide to hike down the serpentine trail from the theater to Mill Valley.

Café menu items include vegan/vegetarian and gluten free. Menu here.

Patrons may supplement picnics and purchase all kinds of food at the site from all-natural or Aidell’s grilled hotdogs, South Seasar salads to ice-cream.

Merchandise includes hats, t-shirts and last year even a new Mountain Play lip balm.

Patrons may bring adult beverages (alcohol) or buy on site and there's a picnic competition.

Free shuttle details here.

Hike down map here. Drop your baskets and coolers at the stage.

It’s for everybody: outreach

The non-profit theater company also offers an outreach program for at-risk youth which includes tickets, transportation, workshops and nature hikes. The theater works with social services.

The theater performs at a senior center in Mill Valley for those who can no longer make the trip.

Ticket information: General admission adults $40/Seniors, 65 and over, $35/Children 4-13, $20/Young adults 14 – 21, $30. Children under three, free and no ticket required. Shuttles, free. $3 per ticket service fee. Additional $5 per order charge for phone orders.

Reserved seating runs $45 to $120. Group discounts.

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