Class of 1994 alum Erin Dilly fondly recalls the chipatis, football Saturdays and walks through the Diag of her University career.

She plans to share some of these experiences with her castmates from the touring production of Rodgers and Hammerstein”s “South Pacific,” during their stop in southeast Michigan. Dilly plays the female lead in the show, which opens at Detroit”s Fisher Theatre Tuesday night.

“This is the lovely piece of touring,” Dilly said. “It quite often brings you back to your family and your beginnings.”

Dilly”s family intends to turn out in full force for the production. Her parents and older brother Jason Dilly, also an alum, plan to attend the opening night performance of “South Pacific” in Detroit.

“South Pacific” examines two parallel love stories unfolding on a tropical island where American forces are garrisoned in the midst of World War II. One involves Dilly”s character, Nellie Forbush, an exuberant nurse from Arkansas who falls for an older man. Michael Nouri, who starred opposite Julie Andrews in Broadway”s “Victor/Victoria,” plays the role of Nellie”s love interest, French planter Emile de Becque. While Nellie struggles to accept Emile”s two children by a native woman, Lt. Joe Cable must face his own feelings for a young Tonkinese woman in the show”s other storyline.

The script “deals with prejudice and overcoming personal limitations and fighting for a world where love can conquer social hatred,” Dilly said.

As upbeat Nellie, Dilly has the opportunity to sing some of the show”s most cheerful tunes. These numbers include “Honey Bun,” “I”m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” and “I”m In Love with a Wonderful Guy.”

“Rodgers so gorgeously wrote for character, and all of his melodies just pour out of one”s heart,” Dilly said. “It is a pleasure to sing every night.”

Dilly said she is ecstatic to be playing the role of Nellie, a part she has always admired and wished to play. She views the character as an honest portrayal of human emotions. Unlike the stereotypical female ingenue, Dilly said Nellie possesses her share of flaws.

“She leads with her heart, makes a few big mistakes and learns from them,” Dilly said. “The journey each night is extraordinary.”

But “South Pacific” forms only the most recent leg of Dilly”s journey. She joined the tour soon after completing her Broadway debut run as young Phyllis in “Follies.” Prior to that, she received a Helen Hayes best actress nomination for her performance as Betrande in the American premiere of “Martin Guerre.”

Now Dilly”s days are filled by the grueling touring schedule. The cast of “South Pacific” performs eight shows a week and frequently spends days off traveling. After months of this relentless schedule, Dilly said she is thrilled to be staying in her own bed at her parents” home in Southfield during the show”s stint in Detroit.

“After about the sixth hotel, the glamour of room service fades, and you wish only for your own bed, kitchen and couch,” she said.

Dilly will be heading home to New York in mid-March when her contract for “South Pacific” expires. For now, she is focusing on her two final engagements, the Fisher Theatre and a run in East Lansing, before determining what to do next.

“It is a fiercely competitive industry, and I have been blessed to be making a living at what I love since graduating,” she said.


“South Pacific”

Feb. 19-March 10

Fisher Theatre

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