Chesapeake's 'South Pacific' disenchanting

July 05, 1996|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There are some things to like about the "South Pacific" playing at the Chesapeake Music Hall through Sept. 1, but problems of casting and execution make this presentation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic much less of an "enchanted evening" than it ought to be.

Alas, the scenes come and go without any real sense of occasion, either in cumulative impact or in the numerous "big moments" that dot both the book and the score.

A major problem is the casting of Cynthia Lasner as Ensign Nellie Forbush, for this attractive young actress is simply not up to the demands of the starring role.

Is Nellie, the Navy nurse from Arkansas who falls in love with a mysterious French planter in the middle of World War II's Pacific theater, a goofy goober with a cute lil' ol' voice, or is she a more mature, substantial woman with vocal tone to match?

Amazingly, Lasner gives us both Nellies with her overdone Southern belle noises flitting in then out of the play with astonishing carelessness.

In "I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy," she sounds perky, vivacious and fairly sophisticated. But stick her in a shower stall for "Gonna Wash That Man Right Out-a My Hair" and she belts the thing out in a squeaky hillbilly twang more suggestive of Roy Rogers than Richard. Go figure.

None of Nellie's big moments registers. Any empathy she feels for Liat, the Asian girl who loses her lover to the war, never makes it to the audience. And when Nellie finally confronts the idiocy of her prejudices, the needle on the emotions dial barely quivers.

Lasner is not alone. Transitions into the big ensemble numbers -- "Bloody Mary," "Nothing Like a Dame" -- are ragged.

The final scenes, which are supposed to convey the excitement of a vastly changed strategic picture of the war, stumble by uneventfully.

Add a miscast Lt. Joseph Cable and a wheezy, synthesized recorded tape that turns this most symphonic of show biz scores into French accordion music, and you have a "South Pacific" pretty much lost at sea.

A pity, too. They had a solid Emile de Becque in Bob Patterson, a hilarious Luther Billis, courtesy of Toby Hessenhauer, and the remarkable Peggy Glenn -- in real life, the most genteel of women -- as a delightfully earthy Bloody Mary.

I'll stay a cockeyed optimist, though, and wait for news of a super "Mame," Chesapeake Music Hall's next show, which opens in September.

"South Pacific" will run through Sept. 1. Times are 6: 30 p.m. buffet and 8 p.m. shows Thursdays and Saturdays; 7 p.m. buffet and 8: 30 p.m. shows Fridays; 1 p.m. buffet and 2: 30 p.m. show Sundays. Prices range from $25.95 to $28.95. The dinner theater is at 339 Busch's Frontage Road, Annapolis. Information: 626-7515 or (800) 406-0306.

Pub Date: 7/05/96

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