Naval metaphors have been all too easy to reach for ever since South Pacific's director, Bartlett Sher, compared this production to a military operation on January 22, the first day of rehearsals. But as 900 guests poured into Tavern on the Green last night, for the opening-night party, it was hard not to think in terms of an invasion: an invasion of joy.
"It's a hit! It's a hit!" proclaimed one of the earliest to arrive, director Jack O'Brien, who may be currently rehearsing a modest show for LCT (John Lithgow: Stories by Heart) but who himself knows something about marshalling Omaha Beach-like forces (c.f. The Coast of Utopia).
O'Brien's words proved prophetic. The reviews for South Pacific are rapturous -- word of them of course filtered through the party about halfway through, by glances at iPhones and Blackberries and through old-fashioned word of mouth -- but people were having such a festive time that they almost didn't need the ratification of critics to sense that they'd done good. After a month of preview performances followed by afternoon rehearsals followed by more preview performances, in their heart of hearts they just knew.
The performers and creative team partied publicly at Tavern; they also celebrated before the show, exchanging tokens in more private, family fashion. The most conspicuous display of gift-giving: Our Bloody Mary, Loretta Ables Sayre, had lush purple-and-white leis flown in from her native Hawaii, and they garlanded the necks of people in both the Beaumont and at Tavern on the Green.
These natural necklaces were, in a sense, a case of painting the peacock, since to watch the cast at the party was to realize that they are all -- every one! -- even more attractive offstage than on. Swanning around in their civvies, buoyed by bubbly and by post-performance exhaustion euphoria, they were a stunning bunch.
But let me resume my military metaphor. There was a vivid sense last night, after all the private toasts and the implied confetti and all the being hugged by people you'd never met but who damn well seemed to know you, that the fun has just begun: that the cast and crew and musicians and all the LCT staff have fulfilled their initial strategy (landing on the beaches) but that now the real work -- forty actors continuing to deepen their characters over eight shows a week in what is shaping up as a very long run - can begin.
As New York Yankee legend Yogi Berra, who was in attendance last night (of course he'd seen the original production: when it opened on April 7, 1949 he was 23 but already a star and invited to everything glittering in Gotham), told me, as he surveyed the size and shouted over the happy noise of the Tavern on the Green crowd: "I was at D-Day. This is bigger."