By 2013 standards, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific would seem a quaint reminder of bygone Broadway’s grandeur. Its gangly Seabees drool over dames. Its female characters, except for the audacious Bloody Mary, live for love. Its little slice of World War II is bathed in the island aroma of Bali Ha’i.
So, why is it so hard to resist this old warhorse? Simple: the songs. You can have Nellie Forbush’s silly “A Cockeyed Optimist” and “I’m Gonna Wash that Man,” but South Pacific’s rousing numbers for its gang of Seabees—“There is Nothin’ Like a Dame” and “Bloody Mary”—are good-natured fun. “Some Enchanted Evening” may be a show-tune cliché, but it still oozes amour, and the wistful ballad “This Nearly Was Mine” can moisten the eyes of the most stubborn stoic. Of course, in the case of the latter two, you need a worthy Emile DeBeque. You need an operatic baritone who brings lungpower and tender passion to the role of South Pacific’s love-bewitched French plantation owner.
The Welk Theatre’s got such an Emile DeBeque in Randall Dodge, a veteran of the Escondido company’s The Fantasticks and The Pirates of Penzance. Worthy of a backing orchestra larger than the Welk production can accommodate (its ensemble numbers four—keyboards, percussion, violin and reeds), Dodge makes the Welk’s South Pacific pure romantic escapism. Vocal performances by Hannah M. James as Nellie, the Navy nurse from Little Rock who loves DeBeque, and Benjamin Lopez, as the smitten (by island girl Liat) Marine Lt. Cable, are stellar as well, and Brenda Oen is a boisterous Bloody Mary.
In spite of its leisurely pace, South Pacific’s parallel love stories unfold without allowing for development of any particular chemistry between the couples (Nellie and DeBeque, Cable and Liat). Today, as in 1949 when the show debuted on Broadway, we are asked to accept love at first sight, across a crowded room, as “Some Enchanted Evening” suggests, or on an enchanted island as regards Liat and the lieutenant. We do because it’s Rodgers & Hammerstein. To quibble would be the act of a 2013 cynic.
It’s too early in the new year for that. Let Bali Ha’i and those in its spell have their illusions.
South Pacific runs through March 17 at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido. $47-$63. welkresorts.com
Educating Rita: A dissatisfied hairdresser decides to enroll in an English lit class and seeks tutelage from an alcoholic university professor. The relationship forces both to assess their place in life. Opens Jan. 9 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Truth Values: One Girl’s Romp Through M.I.T.’s Male Math Maze: A one-woman retort by writer, actor and mathematician Gioia De Cari to sexist comments made by Harvard President Larry Summers in 2005. Runs Jan. 9 through 12 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. lyceumevents.org
Clybourne Park: In this award-winning, sort-of sequel to A Raisin in the Sun, a suburban Chicago home is the setting for tense race relations in 1959 (Act 1) and 2009 (Act. 2), with the same actors playing different characters in each act. Opens Jan. 12 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
Pygmalion: You know My Fair Lady. Well, this is the 1912 George Bernard Shaw play on which that beloved musical was based—the story of Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. Opens Jan. 12 at the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
A Feminine Ending: An oboist struggles to juggle her own artistic career and the demands of her boyfriend, a pop star on the rise. Opens Jan. 11 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Peace: A new play by UCSD professor Marianne McDonald, about a mother and an alcoholic son, gets a one-night-only staged reading. Presented by San Diego Actors Theatre, it happens on Jan. 14 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. sdactorstheatre.net
King Lear: This is a staged reading of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, about the monarch who loses his marbles. It happens on Jan. 15 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
An American Story: In this musical, playwright, actor, composer and producer Hershey Felder plays Charles Leale, the 23-year-old doctor who tended to Abraham Lincoln after the president was shot at Ford’s Theatre. Through Feb. 3 at the Birch North Park Theatre. birchnorthparktheatre.net
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb’s Players Theatre, it’s on hiatus through the holidays, running again from Jan. 10 through Feb. 17 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
South Pacific: Love blossoms for two couples amid racial prejudice and World War II in this classic musical. Runs through March 17 at Welk Resports Theatre in Escondido. welktheatres.com
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net