Musical spans three generations of Lititz family

By on March 15, 2017
Photo by Laura Knowles Dave Kramer (left) and his granddaughter, Sara Hassona. Sara, a third grader at John R. Bonfield, will be playing the role of Ngana in Warwick High School’s production of “South Pacific” this weekend.

Photo by Laura Knowles
Dave Kramer (left) and his granddaughter, Sara Hassona. Sara, a third grader at John R. Bonfield, will be playing the role of Ngana in Warwick High School’s production of “South Pacific” this weekend.

When Dave Kramer heard that Warwick High School would be presenting “South Pacific” this March, he knew just who would be perfect for the role of Ngana.

Ngana, by the way, is the young Polynesian daughter of Emile de Becque, the wealthy French plantation owner who falls in love with Navy nurse Nellie Forbush.

The actress that Kramer had in mind for the part was his own granddaughter, eight-year-old Sara Hassona, a third grader at John R. Bonfield Elementary School.

“You might call me a stage father, or rather, a stage grandfather,” says Kramer, who didn’t want to be pushy.

It was, after all, up to the casting staff of the high school’s production department, most importantly, vocal director Debra Kline-Smith. Kramer never said anything to Kline-Smith. He just crossed his fingers and hoped.

Then, Sara came home from school to tell her doting grandpa that there was a casting call for the two children, Ngana and Jerome, sent out to all the elementary schools. She wanted to try out for the part.

And she knew just who would give her a ride for auditions.

“When she showed up, there were almost 50 kids, and just six were boys,” says Kramer. “She had pretty stiff competition.”

To his delight, Sara earned the part, fair and square. With her sweet singing voice and exotic Asian looks, she had the beauty and grace to portray the tropical girl. She even had long dark hair that was just perfect for tucking a Hibiscus flower behind her ear.

There was another reason that Kramer hoped that Sara would get the part. Nearly 30 years ago, Kramer’s own daughter, Carrie, had portrayed Ngana in the Lititz AMBUCS production of “South Pacific” on the Warwick stage. Carrie Rodgers is Sara’s aunt, and lives in Georgia, a nine-year Air Force veteran. Both Carrie and her sister, Christen, Sara’s mother, were adopted from Korea, as well as one of their two brothers, Chase. They have another brother, Chad.

Back in the late 1980s, Carrie portrayed Ngana when she was also eight years old. She too was a third grader, except she went to Lititz Elementary School.

“I was so happy to hear that Sara will be playing the same part I did back then,” says Carrie from her Georgia home. “I hope I can be there to see her.”

For Carrie, it was a very special experience. When she played Ngana, it was her father who portrayed the lead character in “South Pacific.”

That’s right, Kramer himself portrayed U.S. Marine Lieutenant Joseph Cable, singing songs like “Younger Than Springtime” and “My Girl Back Home.” Lt. Cable is the character who falls in love with Liat, a young Polynesian woman.

In “South Pacific” Lt. Cable never meets the little girl, Ngana. They are in two separate, but parallel story lines. Cable does sing “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” which is a song about how prejudice can shade our thoughts, and is passed down from generation to generation.

“One of the things that people will see is that “South Pacific” isn’t just about being on a beautiful island paradise,” says Kline-Smith. “There is a war going on, World War II, and there are lessons about the prejudice that existed then and still exists today.”

Of course, “South Pacific” has some of the most memorable songs ever written for Broadway, like “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of my Hair,” “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy,” and “Bali Hai.” In the show, Sara sings “Dites-moi,” which is in French, meaning “tell me…”

For Kramer, the songs were what attracted him to the role in the AMBUCS musical.

Kramer had served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, so portraying Lt. Cable was a natural.

“My wife Carol and I saw the AMBUCS production of ‘My Fair Lady’ in the early 1980s, so I got interested in doing shows, like ‘The Music Man’ and then ‘South Pacific,’” says Kramer. “Thirty years later I’m still convinced I got the role because, being a former Marine, I had the right uniform already hanging in my closet.”

When Kramer watches his granddaughter portray Ngana in this weekend, he will be quietly singing along to many of the songs. For this stage-grandfather, nothing gives him more joy than reliving the past with Sara as Ngana.

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the Record Express. She can be reached at lknowles21@gmail.com.

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