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Peter W. Beckman

In "South Pacific," Bloody Mary (Rosie Ayala) is a favorite of the Seabees stationed on the island. She sells them grass skirts, shrunken heads and other souvenirs.

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Peter W. Beckman

In "South Pacific," Luther Billis (Shay Burke) and Nellie Forbush (Jennifer Prow) entertain the troops at the base Thanksgiving Show.

Some enchanted evening (let's say Friday), you may see a stranger (or someone you know in passing) across a crowded room. That's when Stars Dinner Theatre will be packing them in for a night of love and laughs at the opening of "South Pacific."

Considered one of the great Broadway musicals, the 1949 tale of interracial romance set during World War II is beloved by generations of audiences who've seen the 1958 film and countless theatrical stagings. But what may be less familiar is how the show addresses -- with frankness and honesty -- a touchy subject.

"It's a classic but at the same time harkens to a time when political correctness was not as much of an issue," said director Sheryl Cleveland. "There's so much really good music in it. This great music is surrounding this story of racism and hatred. They (audiences) think of 'Bali Hai' and 'There is Nothing Like a Dame.' (But) a big part of the story is that fear of being connected at all with another race. It highlights some shameful things of the past."

Cleveland pointed out that show creators Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II even considered removing one controversial number.

"There were parts of it that Rodgers and Hammerstein were asked to not have in the show. 'You Have to Be Carefully Taught' -- (claiming) that you aren't born racist, that you learn it -- they were asked to take that out of the show."

The number remained in the original show as it does in the Stars production, with Cleveland considering it a vital number.

"I didn't shy away from that as a director. We need to celebrate the fact that in many ways we have gotten past that (prejudice)."

Of course, not everything made the final cut.

"It was really hard. Musicals in that time lasted three hours. In dinner theater, it's hard for people to sit that long. But I couldn't cut the story or the songs that people would know.

"It's just chock-full of great music. There's not as many reprises (in this show). (In the original) every song gets reprised at least once. I don't do eight verses either."

The classics are still there, from "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" to "Some Enchanted Evening" and the nurses' number "Honey Bun."

One might think that mounting such an ambitious musical would take months of rehearsal, but this came together quickly with military precision.

"This show was put together with a cast in two weeks. Many were both in '9 to 5' and 'Willy Wonka' (Stars and Bakersfield Musical Theatre shows that ended Feb. 9). They auditioned and got cast, but they had other rehearsal commitments. Literally, two weeks ago I got my entire cast together.

"It takes creative rehearsing, people who can rehearse during the day when they can, so it doesn't feel rushed in the end. We'll be ready by Friday. It comes back to the dedication of the people involved."

The diverse cast of 22 spans generations and acting experience, a fact that Cleveland said enhances the show.

"Our cast ranges from the youngest is 16 and my oldest is 75. There's a real camaraderie that has gone on in the cast and it's cool. You had younger people coming in and older people already around, and they were working together for one goal. I like having diversity."

One new face is Katerina Margariti, making her stage debut as island girl Liat, who falls in love with an American naval lieutenant.

"She's (Margariti) an exchange student from Albania. She came with her host mom to a Stars show and said that is was something that she'd like to do. I cast her as Liat and her host mom as one of the nurses."

Playing opposite Margariti is Josh Hefner, who's stepping into his first major role at Stars.

"Our Lt. Cable, he's one who has worked his way up. He has done a lot of chorus work. A really great kid. He's dedicated, comes in and helps with sets. It's nice to see him stepping into a lead role. I think people will say, 'Seeing you dancing in the back, I didn't know that you could do that.'"

Stepping into the lead roles of the French plantation owner and American nurse who loves him are two well-known actors returning to Stars.

"Emile and Nellie are two people who haven't been on Stars stage for a while: Kevin Trueblood and Jennifer Prow. It's nice to have them back again."

Rounding out the cast are Rosie Ayala, as the sassy Tonkinese grass-skirt vendor Bloody Mary; her children, Olivia and Diego Ayala, as Emile's children, Ngana and Jerome; Shay Burke as womanizing sailor Luther Billis; and Norman Colwell as Cmdr. William Harbison.

Cleveland said she's looking forward to debuting "South Pacific," which kicks off the theater's ambitious 2013 lineup.

"This season is huge for Stars. I think in doing 'South Pacific' first, we're paying homage to a classic before we get into shows that are newer and adventurous and maybe outside of the box that we've created for ourselves. We're tipping a hat to the beginnings of musical theater."

Upcoming shows include "Monty Python's Spamalot," "Disney's Beauty and the Beast," "Les Miserables" and season closer, "The Producers."

Although Cleveland stays busy off stage as a math teacher at Golden Valley High School, she's looking forward to being a part of the rest of Stars' season.

"I'm going to direct the last show, and I hope to be on stage for some of the others."