In at least one sense, Eric Anderson, who steps in to the role of Stewpot this week, is a quick study. He only booked the role a month ago, but he has already figured out the essential truth about the world that is South Pacific: "It's as epic backstage as it is onstage."

Those were his words the other day as he contemplated his first night, which is also, as it happens, his Broadway debut. Noah Weisberg and Victor Hawks, after ten months of SP service that was worlds-beyond- yeoman, have moved on, and Matt Caplan and Anderson are assuming the roles of, respectively, Professor and the Stew.

Anderson's quick-study habits have been honed for most of his life. He grew up in Irvine, California. His parents were both performers -- his mother had been in a band with Richard and Karen Carpenter before they broke big as The Carpenters -- and they enrolled Anderson in a children's opera project when he was seven. "I started out in Gilbert and Sullivan," he said, "and the Major General in The Pirates of Penzance was my first major role." (His last major role, in a year-long touring production in 2007, was Merlin inCamelot.)

It is probably fair to assume that a child who can learn the lyric "I know our mythic history/King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's/I answer hard acrostics/I've a pretty taste for paradox" can also, as an adult, master "There are no books like a dame/And nothin' looks like a dame." Still, Anderson isn't about to act cocky.

"Stewpot's definitely a right-hand man to Billis, and part of the comic relief," Anderson commented, "which seems pretty straightforward and basic. But I'm the new kid in a very talented cast, and I feel I need to earn my stripes before I start strutting around."

BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of