Marylanders looking to see one of their own in a Broadway production need look no further than Baltimore’s famed Hippodrome Theatre. Showing Oct. 4-9, the South Pacific National Tour, featuring Columbia native, Jay Frisby, will entertain audiences while also bringing up heavier issues like love and racial inequality in a time of war.
Based on the award-winning book, Tales of the South Pacific, by James A. Michener, the play originally debuted on Broadway in 1949. Now, 62 years and 10 Tony Awards after its opening to rave reviews, the play is still giving audiences an inside perspective to life during World War II in the Pacific Theater.
Set in time where African Americans were seldom allowed to do more than clean mess halls and latrines, many still joined the armed forces in an effort to serve their country the only way they could. Focusing on the life of a nurse serving on a military base in the South Pacific, the play craftily exposes the ignorance and bigotry that ran rampant during this time.
“It’s a story that’s not always told. African-American servicemen struggled through WWI and WWII to set us in the right direction for the Civil Rights Movement,” said Frisby, who plays Tom O’Brien, an African-American soldier.
Noted for its attention to detail and emphasis on reality, Frisby said “South Pacific highlights the struggle soldiers went through and how in many ways you were almost freer there than you were back home. It’s a really powerful thing to bring up on stage.”
A graduate of Yale, Frisby concentrated in Theatre Studies while also traversing the world singing and dancing. “I started acting in elementary school at age seven and it just became a passion in my life,” said Frisby, who’s first professional play was a production of Children of Eden at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, MD.
Frisby, who enjoys acting, dancing, and singing, is no stranger to bringing diversity to Broadway productions. In 2010, Frisby starred as Dilophosaurus in Jurassic Parq: The Broadway Musical, a play told from the perspective of dinosaurs. Frisby says he always loves seeing African Americans in the audience because it reminds him of being inspired by seeing black actors on television and stage as a child and “knowing it’s safe there.”
Now living in Brooklyn, NY, Frisby says “There were more roles for African Americans last year and there will be more parts for African Americans next year.” Having performed at the Hippodrome Theatre years ago in a theatre competition, he calls performing in Baltimore “absolutely a homecoming.”
No doubt there’s much pleasure with Jay’s success, his greatest fan being his parents, Russell and June Frisby.
“We are very pleased with Jay’s success. It is well-earned. Actors, like athletes, must spend many years honing their skills and be dedicated to their craft,” said the senior Frisby, adding that Jay indeed began acting as a small child.
“He has worked very hard and has made many sacrifices to get where he is. We firmly believe that this is only the beginning for Jay.”