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Loretta at Lincoln Center

By Yu Shing Ting

Ables Sayre as Bloody Mary in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacfic.
Ables Sayre as Bloody Mary in Rodgers &
Hammerstein’s South Pacfic.

Loretta Ables Sayre had a lot to celebrate this year - turning 50 on April 1 and making her Broadway debut in the first Broadway revival of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s prize-winning musical classic South Pacific, which opened at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center Theater in New York on April 3. She then earned a Tony Award nomination for her role as Bloody Mary in the hit revival production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific. It’s her first bid for theater’s top prize and her first time on Broadway.

Loretta Ables Sayre and company in a scene from the Lincoln Center Theater production of South Pacific.
Loretta Ables Sayre and company in a scene from the Lincoln Center Theater production of South Pacific.

Ables Sayre, 50, was one of four cast members among the 11 nominations South Pacific garnered. She is a contender for best performance by a featured actress in a musical. South Pacific also made the cut for best revival of a musical.

“I'm so ecstatic; I don’t know what chance I have (to win), but it doesn’t matter. To be nominated in my very first show in New York and on Broadway...I’m just stunned,” she said.

“Imagine coming from You Somebody at Diamond Head Theatre to Lincoln Center to the Tony Awards. I would say it’s whirlwind. I’m over the moon and up in the stars — elated and blessed.”

“I cried like a baby when I found out that I got the part,” says Ables Sayre, who plays Bloody Mary. “We all have dreams, princess dreams that seem so huge, and as deep as a dream as it is in your heart, there’s that logical side of you that says, ‘really, how attainable is this?’

“And for them to tell me that I got the part, that I was worthy to play the part, and that they chose me over the many, many, many people they saw was probably the greatest confirmation for me of being a worthy performer.”

You may recognize Ables Sayre from various Oceanic commercials currently airing on TV as well as print ads in MidWeek.

She also appeared in recent state Department of Health commercials; performed as the waitress character “Loretta” in Bank of Hawaii’s series of Harry and Myra commercials; played the recurring role of Aunty Jackson in Baywatch Hawaii as well as the role of Nannie Lee in Hawaii; was featured in North Shore; has a recurring role as Auntie in Beyond the Break; performed in Magnum P.I. and had the lead role of Parissima Macadangdang in the TV series Byrds of Paradise.

Ables Sayre got the blessing of Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s daughters.
Ables Sayre got the blessing of Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s daughters.

She also serves as the voice of PBS Hawaii and has appeared in and/or provided voiceover talent in TV and radio commercials for Pearlridge, Hilo Hattie, Pleasant Island Holidays, State Farm, First Hawaiian Bank, Chili’s Restaurants, SlumberWorld and others.

Last summer, she reprised her role of Pua “Ma” Lusa in the musical hit You Somebody at Diamond Head Theatre, for which she won the Hawaii State Theater Council’s Pookela Award for Leading Female in Musical.

Her resume also lists a professional singing/theater career beginning in 1979 as a female vocalist with Keola and Kapono Beamer in the Ocean Showroom of the Outrigger Reef Hotel in Waikiki. From there she went on to become the opening act with comedian Andy Bumatai at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, then toured with the Honolulu Theatre for Youth in the production of Song for the Navigator, followed by five-nights-a-week performances at the Lewers Lounge in the Halekulani Hotel for 10 years and then performing at The Veranda at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel for the next seven years.

Even with all she’s accomplished, Ables Sayre says there’s nothing like Broadway.

“Getting this role in South Pacific, it’s the best job I ever had in my entire life,” she says. “I’m able to put the two things that I love to do together - acting and singing - in a role that is so colorful and dynamic.

“Also, when I came to New York for the call-back audition, they introduced me to some of the people in the room, and it ends up that there were two women in there, and they were Alice Hammerstein (daughter of Oscar Hammerstein) and Mary Rodgers (daughter of Richard Rodgers). “And to meet the daughters of these two men and to be able to audition in front of them and then also to get their blessing was the biggest thing to ever happen in my entire life. Their fathers wrote American musical theatre as we know it.”

Li Jun Li, Loretta Ables Sayre and Matthew Morrison in a scene from the Lincoln Center Theater production of South Pacific.
Li Jun Li, Loretta Ables Sayre and Matthew Morrison in a scene from the Lincoln Center Theater production of South Pacific.

For the past month, Ables Sayre has been working 12-hour days, six days a week as the show was in a preview period, which basically means an entire month of dress rehearsals in front of a live audience where the show is continually tweaked to ensure that everything is absolutely the way it should be for opening night.

“That first night on the stage, I was just overwhelmed in tears,” recalls Ables Sayre. “I could just barely make it out there, and to take the bow and hear the response from the audience was just about all I could handle. I cried and cried and cried. That’s been my life here in New York because it’s been so overwhelming.

“I just say thank you, thank you to God and to whomever my angels are that are swirling around that have brought me to this place in my life. I just can’t tell you how fortunate I am.”

Ables Sayre learned that she was hired for the role of Bloody Mary last August but couldn’t tell anyone until the official announcement was made to the public in October.

“They made us promise that we wouldn’t tell anyone, and they said specifically don’t tell anyone who has any press connection,” says Ables Sayre, whose husband, David Sayre, is president of a PR company and serves as her publicist. “Everybody in theater knows that when you go for a call-back, by the time you leave you kind of know one way or another. So, to have to keep it a secret for weeks, it was hard. I couldn’t go to my stylist because she would be asking me questions. And when I would go to work, I would leave immediately because I couldn’t talk to anybody. I had a hard time just leaving the house.”

Ables Sayre, whose ethnic background includes Filipino, Spanish, French and Chinese, was born in California and raised in Hawaii. Her family received a military transfer to Hawaii when she was in the second grade, and she graduated from Radford High School in 1976.

Now a resident of Mililani Mauka, Ables Sayre has been in New York since mid-January, staying in an apartment that overlooks Central Park - and is scheduled to stay there at least until the last show on June 22.

“There’s talk of an extension,” she explains."So, if that happens, the earliest I would be able to come back to Hawaii is in the late fall.”

As incredible of an experience as it has been in New York, Ables Sayre says Hawaii will always be her home.

“I would consider coming back to New York depending on what kinds of other jobs are offered,” she says. “But I don’t think I would ever move here permanently.

“I’ve had people here in New York already asking if I would be interested in doing productions with them, but all I can think of right now is getting this show up and running. This is my priority, to make sure South Pacific is the No. 1 thing to go to in New York.

“During previews, they told us at Lincoln Center that the show has broken all the box office records for sales for the theater. So, hopefully, with the response that we’ve had, it will run for a very long time.”


Posted: May 22, 2008 @ 2:05 PM HST

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