South Pacific star finds washing man out of her hair is easier sung than done
It may not seem such a troublesome task to have to wash your hair seven times a week-unless you have to do it in front of a theater full of strangers while belting out a show tune.
Such is the plight of Maria Brinkmann, star of the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina's holiday show, South Pacific. What is customarily reserved for the privacy of one's bathroom will become a public spectacle for this New York actress playing the role of the spunky Ensign Nellie Forbush in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.
"My friend suggested that I be extra nice to the props manager," Brinkmann said. "Bake her cookies, buy her flowers. Do whatever it takes to make her happy if you want to be sure the water is always warm."
It's not enough Brinkmann has to shampoo and rinse in a makeshift shower in front of 350 people each night, she has to sing the bouncy "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out-a My Hair" at the same time.
"That's what makes theater so exciting," said Brinkmann, who shares her character's energy and enthusiasm. "It's real life in a big way."
Inspired by James A. Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Tales of the South Pacific," the musical is set on a South Seas island during World War II. Nellie, a nurse stationed on the island military base, falls in love with a suave, but mysterious French plantation owner. Realizing the challenges of a relationship with him may be insurmountable, she decides it's best to "wash the man out of her hair."
"It's such a fun song to sing," said Brinkmann, whose credits include an Asian tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music. "What other musical do you get to lather up your hair right on stage?"
It was actually Broadway legend Mary Martin, the first actress to play the role of Nellie, who suggested to composer Richard Rodgers that she really shampoo her hair during the performance. Martin, who created the role when the show debuted in 1949 and won a Tony for her portrayal of the feisty nurse, went on to "wash that man right out of her hair" - literally - almost a thousand times in the two years she performed the role.
Even before rehearsals began for the show at the Arts Center, Brinkmann had the production number down. She learned the moves from her mother, an avid theater buff.
"I grew up listening to South Pacific," Brinkmann recalled. "My mom played the soundtrack non-stop in the car. We realized it was time to put in a new tape when my 3-year-old brother started singing 'Honey Bun'."
The comical tunes among more than a dozen showstoppers featured in the Tony Award-winning score. Other favorites include "Some Enchanted Evening," "Bali Ha'I," "A Wonderful Guy" and "This Nearly Was Mine."
But pretending to wash your hair while singing in your living room is a far cry from actually doing it on stage. Not only does Brinkmann need to be careful to keep the soap out of her eyes, she needs to keep her microphone dry.
Actors typically wear the wireless mikes around one of their ears. Since Brinkmann will be pouring water over her head in the hair-washing scene, an alternative plan had to be devised. Arts Center costume director Jennifer Correll came up with the idea of sewing the mike into her shirt.
Props manager and set designer Sabrinna Cox had her own set of problems to contend with, not the least of which is keeping water from splashing all over the stage floor. To accomplish this, she constructed a platform with a foam bottom to absorb the water. Over the platform she rigged a barrel with a showerhead operated by pulling down on a chain.
"We considered making a basin where she could wash her hair," said Cox, who is charged with supplying all the set pieces. "But we thought a shower would be a lot more fun."
South Pacific runs Dec. 3-28 in the Elizabeth Wallace Theatre. Performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday with a special 1 p.m. Christmas Eve performance and Sunday shows at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $52 for adults ($49 for Dec. 3 and 4 previews), $37 for children under 16 ($35 for the previews), and may be purchased at the Arts Center box office or by phone with a credit card by calling 842-ARTS (2787). Ticket prices include a $5 facility fee.