SOUTH PACIFIC by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan, directed by Michael Lichtefeld (Stratford). At the Avon Theatre. In rep to October 28. $48-$117.30. 1-800-567-1600, www. stratfordfestival.ca. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
Some classics age well, some don't. South Pacific does, sort of. The theme is still hugely relevant: racism, and the way it tears up love. On a navy base in the South Pacific during the second world war, nurse Nellie falls in love with a plantation owner only to freak out when she learns he has mixed-race children. In a subplot, Lieutenant Cable falls for the Tonkinese Liat but can't get over his own prejudice.
Some of the events in the show are relevant in not-so-good ways. Bloody Mary serves up her probably under-age daughter to Lieutenant Cable, and the contemporary resonances -- aid workers sexually exploiting African women, for example -- are creepy. It doesn't help that Grace Chan plays Bloody Mary, the savvy entrepreneur, as an Asian caricature and not as the earth mother she should be.
Stratford's production is fine, extremely well sung and beautiful to look at -- credit Douglas Paraschuk's clever bamboo set for this last. And those warm melodies from the famously frigid Richard Rodgers are hard to resist. Bruce Dow is terrific, as usual, as the resourceful sailor Luther. And though Theodore Baerg as Emile starts off slowly, he sings like a dream and does finally work up some emotion.
But what's with Cynthia Dale's Southern accent in the role of Nellie? It's the same one she hauled out last year for Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Dale's an awesome song-and-dance talent, but, sorry, folks like Nellie who hail from Arkansas do not drawl that heavily.