Shortly after 10 o'clock last night, a tall, handsome man in a conservatively tailored aqua suit strode onto the stage at the Capital Centre. The distinctly soprano tinge of the tumultuous roar from the crowd indicated clearly that Teddy Pendergrass, the No. 1 heartthrob in rhythm and blues today, was about to begin another concert.

And what a show it was -- Pendergrass skillfully working the capacity crowd of 20,000; eliciting screams, moans and declarations of love from the predominantly female crowd that have not been heard since the heyday of James Brown.

Since leaving Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, for which he was lead singer, in the mid-'70s, Pendergrass has enjoyed enormous popular success, especially for his extended sensuous readings of ballads. The possessor of a striking, gravelly voice, Pendergrass projects an image of gentleness, passion and sensitivity -- a heady mix by any standard. He is a master showman.

Several times last night, Pendergrass had 'em stomping in the aisles, but the greatest response came during a red-hot duet with Stephanie Mills. Their reading of the ballad "Feel the Fire," complete with a cafe-like prop setting and earnest looks and caresses, simply destroyed an audience that had come for precisely this taste of ambrosia.