So this tragic hero, a stern, sensible Princeton-educated U.S. Marine named Lt. Joseph Cable (Anderson Davis) finds himself in the South Pacific amidst a herd of guys from the U.S. Navy. He'd love to get some intel on what the Japs are up to, because World War II is still in play. On the nearby mystical island of Bali Ha'i (mystical because that's where all the young daughters of the local French families are hiding), Cable falls for a native daughter named Lait (Sumie Maeda), who looks about 12 years old, but she's sure a good kisser who gently strokes his hair -- and probably other parts as well. "I know what you're thinking," he chides skeptical onlookers; sure he does, because it is what we're thinking, too: You're a perv, dude. She's Cable's fantasy lover because she gazes at him adoringly and doesn't talk back. In fact, she doesn't talk at all, which is even better. Cable's anthem-in-song of love to barely pubescent Lait is "Younger Than Springtime," which is sort like an homage to the trafficking of children from exotic, faraway places. Rodgers' and Hammerstein's musical classic, presented by Lincoln Center Theater, is almost stunning for the window it offers onto the perverse America psyche, with its gardens of optimism, salvation complexes and sexual fantasies that come wrapped in a kind of national can-do solipsism. Michael Yeargan's classical storybook sets come with a backdrop of the expansive Pacific, idyllic and isolating, to unify the various settings and to conjure an American homeland far beyond the horizon. Barlett Sher's staging is a gift for a number of reasons. From this production, you can almost understand how we got into the quagmires of Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. Furthermore, his terrific ensemble performs with a vivacity that's nonetheless bereft of the showboating that comes attached to so many musicals. Even with Christopher Gattelli's musical staging with choreography that sashays and snaps, there's a sobriety and sincerity that reveal the musical for exactly what it is, and the 1950s era of Americana that spawned it. Terrific leading performances by Rod Gilfry and Carmen Cusack as the expat Frenchman and U.S.Navy ensign/nurse who play out the boy-gets-girl, boy loses girl -- maybe they stick to the formula, maybe they don't. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through July 17. (213) 628-2772.
Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Starts: June 2. Continues through July 17, 2010