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Appearing in the Pittsburg Community Theatre production of "South Pacific" are, from left, standing, Ron Llenado, Derrick Robertson, Ronn Ton, Steven Mergogey-Conti, Joe Saam, Michael Wilson, John Gishe, (kneeling) Jonathan Little, James Bradley, John Wilson (front) and Vicki Victoria as Bloody Mary. (Pittsburg Community Theatre)

There is nothing like a big musical in the hands of Pittsburg Community Theatre. That, again, was clear on March 7 when the long-standing troupe opened Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical gem "South Pacific" at the venerable California Theatre.

With a lush 22-piece orchestra, timeless score and talented actors -- with just the right amount of humor to boot -- the troupe scores in every count in this enchanting production.

Even the setting is fitting for this musical, as Pittsburg's Camp Stoneman was the staging area for troops shipping off to the South Pacific, and many of them sought entertainment at the theater here.

Based on James A. Michener's book "Tales of the South Pacific," and set in an island paradise during World War ll, the musical centers on two parallel love stories rocked by racism and war. That, and a group of restless sailors stationed many miles from home and sorely in need of female companionship who provide much of the humor in this seamless show directed with aplomb by the talented Dianna Schepers.

The musical opens with the adorable Caleb and Faith Gella as siblings Ngana and Jerome, cutely singing in French "Dites-Moi" just before their father, French plantation owner Emile de Becque, begins romancing a spunky Navy nurse.

Wayne Steffen is well-cast as the mature French lover with a somewhat shady past who longs for the youthful presence of Nurse Nellie Forbush.

When he mellifluously sings "Some Enchanted Evening" and "This Nearly Was Mine," it is heartfelt and real rather than overpowering as in some productions.

Adding to the chemistry in a big way is Caitie McNamara as the cockeyed optimist from Arkansas. McNamara is delightful as the curly-headed blonde who bubbles with enthusiasm on her new adventures yet is cautious about jumping headfirst into a serious relationship with the mature Frenchman.

Despite her prejudices about marrying a man who has been with a Polynesian woman, she quickly casts aside her fears when she realizes she might lose him.

Some of McNamara's brighter moments include the playful "I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair" and 'I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy."

Also wonderful is Vicki Victoria as Bloody Mary, the native islander who sells grass skirts and shrunken heads while plotting to match up her lovely daughter Liat (Atessa McAleeran-Morrell) with the privileged Lt. Joseph Cable (Alan Coyne). Colorful and comic, she's delightful singing "Happy Talk" and mesmerizing in "Bali Ha'i."

Coyne, meanwhile, plays his part well as the officer who has no trouble making love to the beautiful Tonkinese girl, but wrestles with prejudice at the thought of marrying her.

Lightening things up throughout the show are the humorous restless sailors headed up by the Ronald Andrew Llenado who commands the stage with delight every step of the way as the comic, tattooed Luther Billis who's always plotting some new adventure to cast away the boredom of remote island living.

With 39 actors on stage, not to mention nearly a dozen technicians behind it, there's so much more to applaud here as well. Choreographer Mariah Heath, music director Carille Bruno-Thayer and orchestra conductor Diane Klascynski also deserve kudos as do set designers Jermey and David Ward who provided simple but effective tropical backdrops to lure us into the enchanting tale.

Nurse Nellie might have momentarily washed that Frenchman right outta her hair, but with so much to love in this well-paced production, you won't soon forget PCT's enchanting "South Pacific."

Reach Judith Prieve at 925-779-7178.

IF YOU GO
What: "South Pacific"
When: 8 p.m. March 14, 15; 2 p.m. March 16
Where: California Theatre, 351 Railroad Ave., Pittsburg
Info: 925-427-16611 or www.pittsburgcaliforniatheatre.com or at the theater box office.
Cost: $20 general; $15 students and seniors; $10 children 11 and younger; military discounts