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Music Journey Back to WW II

Sterling Playmakers to Take Loudoun to 'South Pacific.'

Without the power of sailing or flying, the Sterling Playmakers are taking a few of their guests to the “South Pacific.”

Ticket price: $10 or $12, depending on seat.

When: July 25-27, Aug. 1-3, 8-10, at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays.

“Even for those few hours, we’re taking people away to whatever world we’re depicting up here,” said Sterling resident Joe Campanella, public relations manager for the Sterling Playmakers.

“Up here” is the stage at Potomac Falls High School’s theater, and the “world” is that of a South Pacific island at the onset of World War II when the love of two pairs of lovers is challenged by the prejudices of the times. The 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical is based on James A. Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific.”

A CAST of more than 60 playmakers will play the lead roles of the lovers, French planter Emile De Becque with nurse Nellie Forbush and Lt. Joseph Cable with his girlfriend Liat, and their families, along with the islanders from nearby Bali Ha-i and the sailors, Marines and nurses staying on the unnamed South Pacific island.

“It offers a little bit of everything for everybody,” said Sterling resident Kathy Bleutge, play director and founding member, about a musical with elements of romance — that found between an older man and a younger woman and a lieutenant and an island girl — and drama from an impending war with comedy throughout. “These people are trying to entertain themselves while war is going on.”

They do so, since they have nothing to do while they wait for their assignments and try to fend off homesickness, Bleutge said, adding, “Some of that is funny.”

“It’s a variety show, really,” said Campanella, who plays the part of one of the Marines, Sgt. Hassinger. “In general, it’s very happy and extremely entertaining.”

Hassinger and the other sailors, Marines and nurses serve as the chorus, singing and dancing to provide a World War II atmosphere and entertainment for their fellow troops.

“These songs have been around a long time. They are so singable and so beautiful,” Bleutge said. “Then again, [the musical] has a strong story line. In this case, there are not one but two love stories. Then you have the sailors and nurses. It kind of takes you back.”

“There’s 18 nurses, and it’s like a sorority house, on stage and off,” said Elizabeth “Liz” Smith, who plays the part of Nurse Betty and is an original Sterling Playmaker. “It’s theater and friendship. It’s both hobby and social, and I like what we stand for — traditional family theater.”

THE FAMILY is the other world that the audience does not see. The Sterling Playmaker’s membership has grown to 200 households since its organization, mostly through word-of-mouth.

“It so happens we get new talented people every show,” Smith said. “They come in and find something they can do with their families, and they make new friends. It becomes part of their lives. … It just builds. Theater is contagious.”

Half of the cast for “South Pacific” is new to the Sterling Playmakers, including Sally Mann, who plays the lead role of Nellie Forbush, and Mikey Hepfinger, 9, and Ty Walker, 11, who alternate to play the role of Gerome, son of Emile De Becque.

“A couple of our leads are newcomers and have slid right into the gang. They have the right talent and personality,” Campanella said.

Mann, an Ashburn resident, tried out for the musical “on a lark,” she said, adding that she has not been in a show for nine years since working in a dinner theater and in night clubs. “I got the bug again,” she said, adding that she was surprised to get a call about the lead part, though now she has a sense of belonging. “I enjoy the group so much. They’re one big family. They’re a friendly, welcoming group.”

Hans Dettmar, who plays the part of Emile, drives from Arlington to participate in the Sterling Playmakers and to attend the daily practices before the shows, something he has done since 2001. “If you’re going to drive a long distance, you especially want to make sure it’s a group you want to work with,” he said. “They’re very organized and very professional, so things are taken care of.”

Campanella can say he has enjoyed being with the Sterling Playmakers “even after five years.” “I’ve made some really good friends here. I enjoy the camaraderie,” he said. “I feel like I belong.”

“The whole goal of the group was to provide a recreational outlet for members … and an opportunity for a variety of people to have a chance on stage,” Bleutge said about the volunteer group. “It should be fun, that’s the point. I don’t mean we don’t take ourselves seriously.”

The playmakers can work by day and at night be taken to a different place and time. “I think that’s what keeps bringing people back,” Bleutge continued. “It’s an outlet. It’s fun and wholesome.”

THE STERLING PLAYMAKERS has performed more than 35 shows since the group’s organization in 1996. The group selects a comedy or drama for the spring and fall performances and a musical in the summers, along with staging smaller shows throughout the year. The group’s performances are held at school auditoriums, the Sterling Community Center, the Loudoun County Senior Center and other sites in the county.

Twelve-year-old Christie Farrell, who plays a lead part in “South Pacific” and an islander on alternate show days, sums up what the Sterling Playmakers is about.

“It’s fun. You learn stuff. You meet new people,” said the Leesburg girl. “You get that learning in, and you get to do what you want to do, which is act. I just love musical theater, and I love the stage altogether.”

Sterling Playmakers partners with the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services. The Sterling Community Center is the group’s home base.