TV has taken up the slack in keeping the musical (dead on the big screen) in front of audiences. This 2001 adaptation of the smash 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway show, drawn from James Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning book Tales of the South Pacific, is an admirable case in point. The production was a labor of love for Glenn Close, who is clearly too old to play "cockeyed optimist" Nellie Forbush but who throws herself wholeheartedly into the role. Nellie is among the American forces waiting for World War II to arrive on an isolated Pacific island; she clicks with a mysterious French planter (Rade Sherbedgia), while a Navy officer (Harry Connick Jr.) falls under the spell of a Tonkinese girl and the tropical breezes of Bali Ha'i--that mystical place "where the sky meets the sea."
In many ways more satisfying than the uneven 1958 film version, this South Pacific is too casual at times, and some of the glorious songs are pared back. Don't look for Sherbedgia to belt out "Some Enchanted Evening" in the basso profundo of previous handlers of the role. His modest but not-unpleasing voice comes out in more of a seductive purr than a wall-shaking boom, which is not a bad thing. Best of all is Glenn Close, who brings a welcome gravity to the proceedings, and lustily sings the classic "A Wonderful Guy" as though she had been waiting her whole life to play the part. --Robert Horton
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