Currently docked at Wolf Trap is Rodgers & Hammerstein's "South Pacific," which has been recommissioned as a showcase for star Robert Goulet. After 38 years this veteran vehicle, buoyed by oceans of melody and technicolor sets, is still unsinkable. It's the direction and performances that are all washed up.
Adapted from James Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific," the 1949 musical follows two star-crossed romances: between Nellie Forbush, a Navy nurse from Little Rock, and Emile de Becque, a widowed French plantation owner; and between Liat, a native island girl, and Joe Cable, a young American lieutenant. But it's also about the war effort, racism and miscegenation -- heavy, racy stuff for a musical in those days. Joshua Logan's book is swift and sturdy by musical comedy standards, and nearly every song is a standard, from "Some Enchanted Evening" to "I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy."
Director Ron Field takes a traditional approach to the Broadway classic, but it's the museum curator's definition of "traditional." At times his static staging and minimally taxing choreography seems more appropriate to a concert rendition. The orchestra is fine, but the score suffers from inadequate vocal direction, with singers frequently breaking words and lines in unfortunate places, disturbing the music's natural flow.
Goulet walks through the part of the exiled Emile, and pretty stiffly at that. It looks as if he were following footprints painted on the stage, and for the most part he sings that way, too. His showy baritone rises to the occasion only for "This Nearly Was Mine," which Goulet seems to understand.
The rest of the cast is dimmer still, though some welcome energy is generated in fail-safe ensemble numbers like "There Is Nothing Like a Dame." As Nellie, Rebecca Andrew tries too hard to be a pert sprite in the Sandy Duncan mold; it's an insincere performance, and Andrew's slight voice, which is often overwhelmed by the chorus, has a cloying and inappropriate country music catch to it. As dashing Lt. Cable, Scott Waara is an unsubstantial presence, and though Amy Jo Phillips gets at the robustly comic character of Bloody Mary, the warm, lilting essence of songs like "Bali Ha'i" and "Happy Talk" eludes her.
South Pacific, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan. Directed by Ron Field; set and lighting, Gerry Hariton and Vicki Baral; costumes, Gail Cooper-Hecht. With Rebecca Andrew, Timothy Scott Bennett, Douglas Carpenter, Robert Goulet, Lyonell Gregory, David Earl Hart, Paul Keith, Christiane Ocampo, Chucky Ocampo, David Pevsner, Amy Jo Phillips, Henry Ravelo, Hugh A. Rose, Helen Tran, Scott Waara, Jeffrey Wilkins. At Wolf Trap through Sept. 6.