April 28 2010 12:00 AM

Despite gorgeous singing, ’Pacific’ doesn’t hold water


The current tour of “South Pacific,” playing through Sunday at the Wharton Center is, sadly, less than the sum of its parts. It feels like little more than an unengaging 3-D movie set to an original cast recording.

Characters suffer through unfortunate accents and a plodding plot before unleashing their undeniably gorgeous voices into ho-hum songs with meh lyrics. In a coconut shell: “South Pacific” is not one of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s better shows.

Characters are given no real time to develop, the stage-pacing passed off as blocking is maddening, and there are shockingly dated plot developments.

Here’s a handsome lieutenant — he’s handsome!

He’s in love with an underage girl whose mom is basically peddling her to him! Root for him!

Here’s a cute nurse — she’s cute! She’s in love with an older man who’s a fugitive from his country for first degree murder! Root for her!

Um, no thanks.

“South Pacific”s" most recognizable number, “Some Enchanted Evening,” is trotted out three full times, and the far more rousing “Bali Ha’i” at least gets a reprise. The show does, however, contain the sweetest odes to statutory rape (“Younger Than
Springtime”) and the biological/sociological origins of racism (“You’ve
Got to Be Carefully Taught”) you’re likely to hear outside “Avenue Q.”

Even though it’s set on an Allied-controlled island in the heat of World War II, there is nary any danger to keep us engaged — the only gunfire we hear is over the radio on a neighboring island — and we’re asked to sympathize with a racist main character. Seriously. When she sneers the word “colored” (while belittling another character’s deceased wife), the audience audibly murmured its discomfort.

Matthew Saldivar plays Luther Billis as one part Danny Zuko, one part “Jersey Shore” douchebag, while Peter Rini, as Cmdr. Harbison, has a very funny — and realistic — reaction to a character scoffing at anyone trying to date at the age of 44.

"South Pacific"

7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April
28 and Thursday, April 29; 8 p.m. Friday, April 30; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Saturday, May 1; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, May 2

Wharton Center