M. Schrader 3:21 p.m., May 21
Unwritten category for Broadway musicals: Don't Try This At Home, Or On A Stage - i.e. the toughest songs to replicate. Who dares to sing "Camelot" or "If Ever I Would Leave You" in the wake of Robert Goulet's original versions? Who's loco enough to go up against Ezio Pinza's "Some Enchanted Evening" in South Pacific?
Wait. Randall Dodge is doing just that at the Welk Resorts Theatre, and wonderfully well! His stately baritone needs no mike to fill the theater with "Once you have found her, never let her go," and then the immortal rise, "ne-ver let...her...gooooooooo." And he approaches the line without the tell-tale taking of an ocean-deep breath, sucking all the oxygen from north Escondido. He just sings it with a relaxed crescendo from the heart.
(another unwritten category: Don't Sing It In The Car On The Way Home. You'll risk a ruinous comparison to Dodge but, a credit to his stirring rendition, he'll inspire you to sing it anyway).
Dodge plays Emile DeBeque, French plantation owner on a South Sea Island during World War II - and a man with a past, including murder and two island daughters from a previous marriage.
Enter Nellie Forbush, Navy ensign-nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas. Emile falls for her, and she for him, until she learns he was married to a Polynesian woman. Though she talks about trying to open her mother's mind, Nellie's own racial prejudice thwarts their marriage. The homicide was justifiable; mixed-race children, no.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II produced South Pacific in 1949. It was a huge hit, and people remark about the music and Joshua Logan's staging. But few find significance in the year. The "musical play" opened five years after the war ended and, amid amiable Broadway tunes like "Cockeyed Optimist" and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man," the authors present an emotional case for letting go of the racism of the war and respecting differences.
As when Lt. Cable sings: "You've got to be taught to be afraid/Of people whose eyes are oddly made/And people whose skin is a different shade./You've got to be carefully taught."
As Lt. Cable, Benjamin Lopez honors the song with palpable sincerity, and his rich tenor does full justice to "Younger Than Springtime."
Ray Limon's choreography vitalizes the randy SeaBees (led by Shaun Leslie Thomas's goofy Luther Billis), but many in the cast sing better than they act. And Hannah M. James disappoints as Nellie. Sometimes stiff, never quite sure how old her character actually is, James gives such a superficial portrayal you wonder what the worldly Emile could see in her.
The technical work's also a mix. The set has a mere sketch of Bali Ha'i on a rear drop, and the lighting design, along with lazy follow-spots and downstage darkness, casts shadows on Bali Ha'i when a performer sings upstage.
Welk Resorts Theatre, 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido, through March 17.
Image: Randall Dodge and Hannah James as Emile and Nellie. Photo Credit Sharyn Sakimoto