On Wednesday this week, the day after the South Pacific cast did their first complete run-through of the opening act, in LCT's big rehearsal room, I walked with Loretta Ables Sayre upstairs to a much vaster space: the Vivian Beaumont stage. Against the aural clatter of the show's crew hammering, Ables Sayre, who plays Bloody Mary, surveyed the progress of South Pacific's visual backdrops. She touched the piece of scenery that will contain the items that her character hawks to the show's sailors, and that suggests the conveyance of a kind of Pacific Island Mother Courage, and said, "This is easier to push around than the one in the rehearsal room. I'm so glad!"

Gladness has pervaded Ables Sayre's mood ever since she landed the role of Bloody Mary last August, though, she admits, she sometimes has a perplexing way of showing it. "After I was told I got the part," she said, "my husband and I had dinner at a restaurant near Lincoln Center. Usually, I'm not terribly emotional, but I cried all the way through the meal. I'm sure that, at first, our waitress must have thought that I'd just gotten tough news."

Continuing her upbeat inspection of the Beaumont, Ables Sayre pointed out a hole toward the rear of the stage. "That must be where a palm tree's going to be. I'm no stranger to those." Specifically: she was born in California and moved to Hawaii when she was six, the state where she's lived ever since, in recent years doing theater and singing jazz standards in some of the better nightlife rooms around Honolulu. "My stepdad was in the U.S. Navy," Ables Sayre says. "And my father was a Filipino, living in the Philippines, who joined the U.S. Army during the Second World War. That's just one of the many ways I relate somehow to the stories in South Pacific. Walking around this stage, in the middle of a city that's still unfamiliar to me, I really feel a connection to this place."

BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Timesand the editor of lemonwade.com.