As the two-and-a-half-year run of South Pacific draws to a close, I thought I would ask everyone involved with the production - actors, designers, Lincoln Center Theater staff - to name the moment or moments they would most like to re-live from the entire experience. This is not an easy assignment: these years have been such an ocean of images and emotions that it's almost unfair to ask anyone to scoop out just a sip or two. And I have to admit that my own response is pretty general: I have loved observing the lobby of the Vivian Beaumont Theater each matinee or evening before showtime. There is something uplifting about watching hundreds of people, full of the expectation of pleasure, milling about just before taking the plunge.
Here are a few of the moments that several South Pacific friends and colleagues have engraved in memory:
Loretta Ables Sayre (Bloody Mary)
My most memorable moment was at the sitz probe. After rehearsing with just a piano in the room, we finally got to the day where we sang all the music with the entire orchestra. Hearing the overture had us all so emotional. But when it was my turn to sing "Bali Ha'i", I almost didn't make it through the song. At the end of it, I burst into almost uncontrollable tears. It was the first time in my life that I had ever sung with an orchestra and hearing the harp and the strings swell took my breath away. I realized the gift and the responsibility that had been given to me to sing these iconic songs and that thrill has never left me. I will carry that day in my mind and my heart for the rest of my life.
Danny Burstein (Luther Billis)
My favorite moment didn't happen just once. It happens at every performance. It happens in the second act, just before the "Honey Bun" number. I'm not in the wings but upstage, behind the set's fake curtain. Every night, I've got about two minutes there with Nellie Forbush, before we go on. We have a great time up there, talking and laughing and just in general building up our energy before we go on. I've shared that moment with all the Nellies - Kelli O'Hara, Laura Osnes, Laura Marie Duncan, Garrett Long. They've all been great.
Li Jun Li (Liat)
I will never forget the single most hysterical moment on stage when Matthew Morrison (Lt. Joe Cable) was still here: In the beginning of my entrance into "Happy Talk," I run towards Cable and he picks me up. At this particular performance for some reason all I felt was Matt and I falling slow motion down onto ground; his feet had slipped from underneath him as if he stepped on a banana peel, and all my weight was already in his arms. We both fell flat on the ground and made a huge "thump" while Paulo Szot had to face upstage to hide his giggling face and I had to find a graceful way to pull myself back up without making it look like it was an accident. It seemed like the audience bought it because the only people laughing were the four of us on stage: Matt, myself, Loretta, and Paulo -- deep underneath our twitching faces.
Garrett Long (Ensign Sue Yaeger)
Here's a partial list:
1) Noah Weisberg's hair and hat
2) Loretta Ables Sayre and the opening night flowers and leis she gave everyone.
3) Bob Lenzi's South Pacific graduation ceremony in Spring 2008. He had joined our show before he graduated from Carnegie-Mellon. He couldn't be at his CM commencement, so we had our own ceremony for him.
4) The 500 cupcakes we received as a gift from Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise
5) First-year Bowling among the cast
6) The freezing nurses constantly huddling around the wig dryer, which is backstage in the hallway near the Stage Manager's office.
Jessica Niebanck (LCT Associate General Manager)
At the start of the sitz probe (the first moment late in the rehearsal period when the cast first meets the orchestra) when the orchestra struck up those unmistakable first three notes of "Bali Ha'i" that begin the overture - so simple, strong, immediate and wonderfully overwhelming.
Nick Mayo (Richard West)
If I could revisit one moment during this amazing journey it would be the day we moved from the rehearsal space to the stage. The first time we toured the set and explored our new home was so moving. To see the ocean and Bali H'ai and have our imagined world come to life was something I will treasure forever.
Robert Lenzi (Billy Whitmore)
I left college just before my final semester began in order to start rehearsal for South Pacific. On a Sunday in May later that year, my classmates were getting ready to listen to Al Gore and Randy Pausch give commencement speeches at Graduation...while I was getting ready for a matinee. No graduation for me. But I got the next best thing: my own ceremony in which I paraded around the backstage green room at intermission and received a fake paper diploma while "Pomp and Circumstance" blared on a boom box.
Laura Osnes (Nellie Forbush)
What a collection of moments to pick from...it's impossible to choose just one! A few come to my mind:
-- At curtain call of my second-to-last performance (Saturday evening, August 7, 2010), I was pretty teary-eyed knowing I had just one show left. After the cast acknowledged the orchestra and took one final bow, I turned to Paulo and we started walking off stage together. He saw the tears in my eyes and literally scooped me up into his arms and CARRIED me all the way to my dressing room while I sniffled into his shoulder!! I felt like the damsel in distress being lovingly rescued by her handsome prince!
-- On a funnier note, there were three instances throughout my run where I ripped my pants during "Honey Bun". I guess I was a little overenthusiastic. Though it made for a funny memory, it was always a little embarrassing and distracting for me to know I had a huge hole in my pants during the intense racism scenes with Cable and Emile immediately following.
-- Oh, I nearly forgot! There was a matinee in May (2010) where the entire audience was filled with energetic and overly responsive school students. It was on this day that I had one of the most humiliating wipe-outs in my onstage history (and I had maybe eight total falls during this run -- that soap during "Wash that Man" is slippery!). However, there was no soap or water involved here, just a terrible misstep on my part when I'm supposed to step up into the shower. I apparently didn't pick my foot up enough and completely tripped getting in there. The shower's swinging doors bumbled back and forth behind me, and I found myself suddenly on my face, with my feet dangling out toward the audience and my head sticking through the back panel of the shower unit! Keep in mind I'm wearing only a swimsuit. I debated whether I should crawl through and come around from behind the shower, or if I should pull my head back to the stage side and stand up on my feet again. I opted for the latter upon realizing that the show was not going to stop just because I fell on my face. I managed to stand and throw in a sassy, "I'm alright!" so the girls knew I wasn't dying. In the next four seconds I made sure I wasn't bleeding. It was just a scrape on my elbow. Though I was exceedingly embarrassed, I resolved not to cry. That is, until I finally got off stage 15 minutes later. It would be really nice to go back and pretend this humiliation never happened!
Michael Yeargan (Set Designer)
For me, it was the oohs and aahs and spontaneous applause that greeted the first revelation of the full orchestra during the overture during the very first preview.
Andrew Samonsky (Lt. Joseph Cable)
One of the most beautiful experiences I had with South Pacific was when I was understudying my role and I got swung out to watch the show from the sound booth. We had already done about a hundred performances at this point, but by the end of the first scene between Kelli and Paulo, I had tears in my eyes, overwhelmed by what a beautiful production this was. Performing it is an incredible thrill, but I must always remember that just as special is the joy of being in the audience. That's why we do this, for them.
Laurissa Romain (Ngana), via Mom, Laurie Sheppard
Laurissa loves being the first one to open the show and enter running and laughing on stage and to top that, while the stage is moving! She said that it's so much fun!
Luka Kain (Jerome) via Mom, Lisa Calli
I just asked Luka, he said he would love to re-live the very first night because then he would get to do it all over again. He is very sad and out of sorts with the end of the run approaching! It's a new experience for him to learn loss, which is what he feels because the end is like losing family members at this point!
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.