KPBS AIRDATE: May 28, 2004
In these days of Big Box stores and one-stop shopping, theater has also jumped on the get-it-all-in-one-place bandwagon. The Fritz just opened a new dinner-theater at 6th Avenue Bistro downtown, and Lamb’s is about to inaugurate an attached restaurant and after-theater café. Since we’re coming up on summertime, at both places, musical fare is the menu du jour.
At Lamb’s, it’s “South Pacific,” the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. In an effort to freshen up an old chestnut and pay tribute to our military, especially with bases nearby in Coronado, director Deborah Gilmour Smyth has made this a show within a show within a show. Onboard an aircraft carrier somewhere in the Pacific, these Seabees are putting on a production of “South Pacific” for the ship’s entertainment. The musical already contains sailors rehearsing for a holiday show, so this creates another layer of distance, or schmaltz, for the audience.
Although the update allows for a wonderful set (designed by Mike Buckley) and some evocative hallway and pre-performance trappings, it doesn’t really add anything to the proceedings. The production has high energy and an attractive array of uniforms, and the male chorus is pretty strong. But the choreography feels forced, the female chorus is weak, and most of the leads, while capturing the emotional essence with acting aplomb, just don’t have the vocal chops to meet the musical demands of those wonderful melodies. The exceptions are perky Erika Beth Phillips as the irrepressible Ensign Nellie Forbush who falls for an older man; David S. Humphrey as Marine Lt. Joe Cable, who falls for an Island girl; and Doren Elias as the wheeler-dealer Luther Billis. Linda Libby makes a potent Bloody Mary, and Stephen Godwin is charming as the French planter, Emile de Becque, but both could be more vocally robust. The somewhat clumsy message of racial tolerance still packs its little punch. But the seven-piece onstage band, stationed on the ship’s upper deck, somehow makes the play feel even older and dustier than it is.
And speaking of dust and must, “I Do! I Do!” seems an odd choice for the once-edgy Fritz Theatre’s downtown dinner-theater debut. This sentimental story, charting 50 years of a marriage, was written in 1966 by the “Fantasticks” team of Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones. While some of the emotions ring true, the play feels decidedly last-century. The stars, however, are dazzling, and they outshine the play, as well as the institutional dinner. Leigh Scarritt and Duane Daniels make a delicious pair, funny and poignant and vocally versatile. Director Bradley Flanagan has choreography credits in his Bio, but they don’t show here, space limitations notwithstanding.
Music is in the air. If a nostalgia trip would kick-start your summer vacation — Bon Voyage!
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.