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From Santa Rosa Junior College/SRT

By ROBERT DIGITALE

With Friday’s premiere of “South Pacific,” Summer Repertory Theatre showed once more its great strength: Bringing together talented college actors from around the country and giving them the chance to sing their hearts out.

Now audiences are waiting to see what the energetic cast will do with the remaining four shows, including Jane Austen’s “Emma,” which opens Tuesday. “Emma” will be followed by “Peter and the Star Catcher,” “Tartuffe” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” The season runs through Aug. 8 at Santa Rosa Junior College.

After four weeks of rehearsals, the nearly 30 young actors emerged Friday night to present a rousing version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s tale of love and prejudice set against the backdrop of World War II.

“Welcome, welcome to our 44th season,” SRT’s artistic director James Newman told the audience before the show at the junior college’s Burbank Auditorium.

South Pacific comes at you with an array of catchy show tunes: the childlike “Dites Moi,” the testosterone-fueled “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” the ethereal “Bali Hai,” the bouncy “Honey Bun,” and the nearly operatic warbling of “Some Enchanted Evening.”

For each number, the SRT cast sang to please, displaying talent, grace and power as desired. If you enjoy classic musical theater, these young people will leave you smiling.

The musical, which premiered in 1949, stood out in its era for addressing racism. The heroine, Nellie Forbush of Little Rock, Ark., and Princeton grad/Marine Lt. Joe Cable both have to confront their own prejudices in connection with separate romances that blossom amid the tropical islands. Their inner struggles add to the drama as Cable and Forbush’s love interest, French planter Emile de Becque, both find themselves in harm’s way.

Emily Kristen Morris as Nellie, Noah Weisbart as Emile and Riley McFarland as Joe all make us care what their fates will be. A tip of the hat to the entire cast, especially the comic relief artists of Michaela Jose as Bloody Mary and Sam Arnold as Luther Billis.

Director James Newman keeps it all moving with a focus on two questions: What’s Nellie going to decide and will she decide too late? The set by Scenic Designer Sean Fanning effectively conjures up the naval installation, the French planter’s home and the mysterious Bali Hai. The 13-piece orchestra conducted by Nancy Hayashibara provides the needed accompaniment for every twist of musical style.

marquee1-lg-southpacificAfter four decades, it remains a wonder how SRT keeps the shows spinning along throughout the summer, often with two shows a night.

For tickets, call 527-4307 of click here.