There has been a noticeable ease this week backstage at "South Pacific," and it isn't just because spring weather has occasionally sprung outdoors. Spirits have relaxed because the show is a big fat hit. The open-ended extension of the run means the actors don't have to scramble for summer jobs: they can buy a new pair of shoes at Barneys, or non-nosebleed seats at Shea or the Stadium, and, most of all, start investing in décor for their dressing rooms. (For superstitious actors, to feather one's backstage nest before reviews come out is to court an end more unbecoming than Banquo's.)
The mood in the front of the Beaumont, on the cancellation queue, has been equally, well, pacific. Or at least it was on Wednesday this week until just before the matinee curtain. About a dozen people had been on the line, which is just inside the door of LCT's West 65th street entrance, since the box-office doors opened at 10 a.m. Many more ticket-seekers swelled the ranks as the morning went on, and by the time I got there, at ten minutes before two, hopes were still fairly high for that very special New York pleasure that comes from being the last person admitted to a sold-out event.
The ripple in the surface calm came when a woman named Martha Nesser (retired schoolteacher; Morristown; Channel 13 tote) remarked to a young woman named Lucy Fielding (student; NYU; iPod earphones intact), "I wonder if Kelli O'Hara will be as good as Mary Martin."
Untrue to her name, Fielding bobbled this conversational line drive: "Who's Mary Martin?"
"Who's Mary Martin?" Nesser replied, her left eyebrow arching precipitously. "Haven't you ever heard "The Sound of Music?"
"Yeah," said Fielding. ?But isn't that Julie Andrews?"
"That was the MOVIE," Nesser sniffed. "On Broadway it was Mary Martin. And ten years before that she did the Broadway version of "South Pacific." Haven't you ever heard the cast album? That was a big hit."
"No. Was there a movie?"
"Yes. Not quite as big a hit. Why did you come today, anyway?"
"To see Matthew Morrison. He was in "Hairspray." Didn't you see that?"
"Really? That was a big hit." Fielding paused for a one-upping kind of emphasis. "The movie was also big. Though that was with Zac Efron. You probably don't know who he is."
Challenged, Nesser launched into a minute dissection of Efron's best-known credit, "High School Musical," sporting not knowledge gained from the adjacent absorption of the at-home obsession of a child or grandchild (the way most of us know that show) but from a genuine passion for "HSM" and its progeny.
By this time, it was 2 p.m. and it was clear that neither Nesser nor Fielding was going to get in to "South Pacific." Both promised me they would be returning to the cancellation line over the weekend, and when I left them at 2:04 p.m they were still yakking Zac.
I suspect that even Mary Martin would have been impressed.