The handsomely staged production of “South Pacific” at the Hippodrome Theatre is a welcome reminder that Rodgers and Hammerstein understood the dynamics of musical theater as well as anybody.
Familiar songs roll out, one after another, in a score that includes “Some Enchanted Evening,” “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” and “Bali Ha’i.” Not bad at all.
This revival does an especially effective job of reinforcing this 1949 musical’s thematic emphasis on the racial attitudes that still characterized American society. Set during WW II, “South Pacific” places its soldiers and nurses on an island where they encounter interracial relationships and the resulting offspring.
The book to this musical is strikingly mature in dealing with a then-controversial social issue. It’s notable how well the show manages to strike a balance between that serious theme and the lighter nature of many of the songs.
In terms of its performances, Katie Reid brings an endearingly spirited southern accent and attitude to the role of the nurse, Ensign Nellie Forbush, who finds herself tending to her own heart as much as to patients.
Where that heart is concerned, she finds herself falling in love with a middle-aged French plantation owner, Emile de Becque (Marcelo Guzzo), whose late wife was an island girl. Seeing their two dark-skinned children prompts Nellie to confront the racial assumptions with which she grew up.
Reid has an assertive, perky singing voice that expresses Nellie’s straightforward outlook quite well. Guzzo is more problematic. Although his singing voice has the operatic heft called for by the role, this native of Uruguay has a speaking voice that aims for a French accent and understandably lands closer to a Spanish accent.
Among the supporting roles in this large and talented cast, Shane Donovan does well as a marine named Lt. Joseph Cable. It’s a confidently sung production that also moves with choreographic ease across a South Pacific base whose comic interludes provide the military personnel with festive relief from the Japanese forces stationed on nearby islands.
“South Pacific” runs through Sunday, Oct. 9 at the Hippodrome Theatre, at 12 N. Eutaw Street in Baltimore. Call 800-343-3103 or go to www.BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com/Baltimore.