The great American musical "South Pacific," for decades relegated to high-school and community theater, shone again in 2008 in a glorious Lincoln Center revival.
The spirit of that production permeates the latest Broadway tour of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, which opened Tuesday night in Orlando.
Officially billed as "based on the Lincoln Center Theater production," this touring show keeps much of what made that revival of the 1949 musical set in World War II so mesmerizing: The inventive set with its tropical blinds that rise and fall on the action; the gorgeous lighting that makes the mysterious island of Bali Ha'i fade in and out of view; the attention to period detail with old Life magazines, smoking and segregated troops.
It's the focus on the racism of the time — remember that "Some Enchanted Evening" notwithstanding, "South Pacific" is much more than a love story — that gives the show its edge, a sense that something more momentous than a tropical romance is going on. Not only was a war being fought to save the world, the world itself was changing in attitude and belief.
In fact, the production's emphasis on the more somber elements nearly overshadows the love story. It's a slight imbalance compounded by a Nellie (Katie Reid) who's appealing with a clear, pretty voice but comes across as more serious than the normal bouncy portrayal.
As Emile, Marcelo Guzzo brings the requisite operatic baritone for big numbers such as his lament, a passionate "This Nearly Was Mine" breaking through his air of detachment. But the mélange of accents — he's a native Spanish speaker trying to sound French while singing in English — often overwhelmed his lyrics.
The standout performer is Cathy Foy-Mahi, a malevolent Bloody Mary, hard and cynical and determined to make a better life for her daughter by finding her an American husband. It's delightfully chilling the way her fierce rasp belies the lighthearted lyrics of "Happy Talk," a number beautifully staged with shadow effects emphasizing the lovely dance by Liat (Hsin-Yu Liao).
Of course, not everything can be replicated from Lincoln Center: The 30-piece orchestra has been reduced to 10, though the musicians create a sound bigger than their number suggests.
Yet the emotional moments remain: Just watch the young men and women marching off to battle to a hushed reprise of the previously comical "Honey Bun" and remember: They were the people who changed the world.
•What: A Florida Theatrical Association presentation of Broadway Across America's "South Pacific"
•Length: 2:55, including intermission
•When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, Dec. 6-9; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11
•Where: Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, 401 W. Livingston St., Orlando
•Tickets: $38 and up
•Online: OrlandoBroadway.comCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times