"Dites-moi: pour quoi?"
As that sweet opening line of "South Pacific" asks, tell me why.
Why do "South Pacific" without a bona fide set? Why do Richard Rodgers' timelessly gorgeous score, arguably his most emotionally resonant, with an orchestra that sounds, in effect if not in fact, thrown together? Why do this odd-couple love story of All-American Ensign Nellie Forbush and exiled Frenchman Emile de Becque with so little chemistry between the actors?
The Yorba Linda Civic Light Opera provides no good answers. Indeed, director Gary Gordon's impoverished production at the Yorba Linda Forum sends up a warning flag: Not all civic light operas should attempt all musicals. Any CLO naturally would feel obliged to stage "South Pacific," but that doesn't necessarily mean it should be done.
Music director John Massy's messy orchestra does not get things off to a good start. Further, for the first time in this reviewer's visits to various "South Pacifics," Emile's oceanside estate has no view of the ocean and the Bali Ha'i paradise is kept offstage.
Janine Benson's Nellie is cute enough but stricken with an incurable case of the giggles that quickly becomes annoying rather than endearing. David Corbin pushes Emile's proper airs to the point of being stolid, and cannot accommodate the wide octaval range of the character's demanding songs ("Some Enchanted Evening," "This Nearly Was Mine").
Like a trade wind whooshing into a shuttered room, the jolly Navy guys led by David Sumerford as the amusing, acerbic Luther Billis give the show a much-needed jolt. But it doesn't last long, because Casey Marshall's Lt. Cable soon strides in. Neither a good singer nor a good actor, Marshall cannot provide important emotional counterpoint to the Nellie-Emile affair.
Distracted from his spy mission by a visit to Bali Ha'i, Cable falls in love with young Liat (Ramona Marshall) and finally there is some passion in the room (even if Bali Ha'i has been reduced here to a straw hut). But Casey Marshall rushes through the usually powerful "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" and exits without leaving behind a sense of this man's doomed fate.
Even a sure-bet number like "Honey Bun," the naval equivalent of a drag show (and Nellie's and Luther's opportunity to clown to the max), is pretty tepid here, and the drama of the Act II spy mission is undercut seriously by Tory Cox as a Cmdr. Harbison whom no one ever could call "Old Ironbelly."
* "South Pacific," Yorba Linda Forum, 4175 Fairmont Blvd., Yorba Linda. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Aug. 7. $9.50-$14. (714) 779-8591. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.
Janine Benson: Nellie
David Corbin: Emile
David Sumerford: Luther
Carole Wade: Bloody Mary
Casey Marshall: Lt. Cable
Tory Cox: Cmdr. Harbison
A Yorba Linda Civic Light Opera production of the musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, directed by Gary Gordon. Music director: John Massy. Set: Erik Jacobson and Robert G. Gore. Costumes: Nancy Dock. Choreography: Lee Martino.