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`SOUTH PACIFIC' KICKS OFF SUMMER SERIES WITH A BANG

"There Is Nothing Like a Dame" might be labeled sexist by 1990 standards, but there certainly is nothing like a great old Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway classic to kick off a summer of musicals.

Director/choreographer James C. Christian has put together one of Utah Musical Theatre's strongest casts."South Pacific" is a difficult show to mount under the best of circumstances - and having UMT produce it as part of a four-play summer season with a severely limited run is a credit to Christian and his smoothly run team.

"South Pacific" is not just a frothy little musical. Sure, there are plenty of light moments, as the bored Seabees and Marines try to inject some fun and adventure into their long days on a remote island during World War II - but Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II also weren't afraid to probe into some darker territory, like racial prejudice.

It's not surprising to read in David Kelso's brief biographical sketch that he's operatically trained. With such gems as "Some Enchanted Evening" and "This Nearly Was Mine," he portrays French plantation owner Emile de Becque with just the right mix of brusqueness and tenderness.

And Cheryl Allison (who's sung with the Fort Worth Opera) was perfectly cast as Ensign Nellie Forbush, the nurse from Little Rock, Ark., who reluctantly falls in love half a world away from her Deep South upbringing.

Other standouts were Shannon Marie Ryan and Jeffrey Wolf (back for his second UMT season) as those wonderful wheeler-dealers, Bloody Mary and Luther Billis, with Gordon Harris and Donna Frotscher as the star-crossed lovers, Lt. Joseph Cable and the delicate Liat. Harris is another UMT ensemble member with a clear, strong voice.

Christian's chorus of enlisted men, while not particularly large, still managed to fill the stage with theatrical excitement in their show-stopping "There Is Nothing Like a Dame" and "Bloody Mary."

From the hurly-burly humor of "Honey Bun" to the poignant sweetness of "Younger Than Springtime" and "Happy Talk," this is a show that will evoke both laughter and tears.

One aspect that makes this show particularly difficult to stage is that the scenes are constantly changing from one very different locale to another - from de Becque's hilltop home (surrounded by lush, larger-than-life foliage), to broad sandy beaches, from the captain's office to the drab Navy base, and to the legendary, exotic island of Bali Ha'i - where your fondest dreams of romance and adventure can be found.

Many of the backdrops have been borrowed from Pioneer Theatre Company, but lighting designer Megan McCormick and costumer Catherine A. Zublin's efforts go a long way to adding to the professional look of this show.

If the show has a weakness it's that - for those who're accustomed to the full-blown orchestrations and massive choral work for the popular screen version - musical director Troy Fisher's small combo does sort of pale by comparison. But the musicians are rarely overpowering or obtrusive.

If "South Pacific" is any indication of the quality of talent in the 1990 season's ensemble, then theatergoers will be in for a real treat for the rest of the shows: "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (July 12-21), "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" (July 26-Aug. 4) and "Evita," Aug. 9-18.