March 26, 2001 12:00 PM

ABC (Mon., March 26, 8 p.m. ET)

South Pacific, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that opened on Broadway in 1949, is beloved by many. But the 1958 movie adaptation left room for improvement: Rossano Brazzi, his songs dubbed by opera star Giorgio Tozzi, seemed out of sync as Emile de Becque, the French owner of a South Seas plantation who pursues U.S. Navy nurse Nellie Forbush during World War II. John Kerr didn’t sing for himself either; worse, he was dishwater-dull as Joe Cable, the Marine involved with a Polynesian beauty.

The best thing about this TV remake is the work of Rade Sherbedgia, who proves that heart and soul—not a sonorous voice—are most important in playing Emile. A singer-songwriter as well as a film actor (Mission: Impossible 2) Sherbedgia renders “Some Enchanted Evening” not as a big number but as a deeply personal expression of unexpected love. Harry Connick Jr.’s singing background serves him well in the role of Joe, and his acting more than adequately suggests the character’s intense ambivalence about interracial romance.

Glenn Close’s Nellie is certainly more mature than Mitzi Gaynor’s was in ’58. In many ways she’s a worthier object of Emile’s affection. But you won’t believe for a second that this Nellie is “a little hick,” and she seems too grounded to turn on a dime from “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” to “[I’m in love with] A Wonderful Guy.” Likewise it’s hard to accept Nellie’s overreaction when Emile reveals his hidden past.

Of course, there’s an alternative to all this quibbling over casting: Sit back and let the music carry you away.

Bottom Line: Despite a few problems, Bali Ha’i beckons

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