"Today is extra special for us at South Pacific" said Danny Burstein (Billis) at the Wednesday-matinee curtain call this week. What followed proved that, if anything, Burstein had indulged in understatement. He announced that in the audience were six members of South Pacific's original opening-night (April 7, 1949) Broadway cast, as well as six members of the Broadway company who played the Majestic and/or Broadway Theaters from 1949-1954, plus Iva Withers, who played Nellie Forbush in the first national tour circa 1954.
These thirteen performers, referred to by Bert Fink, Senior Vice President of Communications for The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, which sponsored the reunion, as "the 49ers," were then introduced to much applause. The acknowledgements were done in touching fashion: each veteran was introduced by his or her current counterpart.
Thus BarBara Luna, the original Ngana, was named by Laurissa Romain; Jacqueline Fisher Langee, the original Lt. Genevieve Marshall, was named by Liz McCartney; Bernice Saunders, the original Ensign Cora MacRae, was named by Becca Ayers; and Eugene Smith, an original Seabee and the last surviving adult male from 1949's opening night, was named by Zachary James.
Laura Osnes introduced Iva Withers, and members of the Broadway company of sixty years ago (the reunion was held in part to commemorate the 60th anniversary) were also given the spotlight: among them, Leigh Allen Raben, Peter Kelley, Merle Muskal Reskin, Steve Roland, and Irma Sandre.
The current Jerome, Luka Kain, may be one of the smallest members of the LCT company, but he had one of the largest tasks: introducing three of his veteran counterparts: Jose Perez, a replacement Jerome; and the brothers Michael de Leon and Noel de Leon, who in the original cast alternated Jerome and the island boy who ran across the stage in Act II calling out, "The boat! The boat!"
After the audience filed out on Wednesday, the veteran and current cast members mingled on the stage of the Beaumont. (Afterwards, the R & H Organization sponsored a dinner across the street from Lincoln Center at O'Neals.) Noel de Leon said his chief memory of 1949 was the anxiety before the Broadway opening night. "The show had gotten good reviews out-of-town, in New Haven and Boston, but it was only when it opened in New York, to raves, that we could all relax. The subsequent attention was huge, and that was a big deal for me at that age."
As photographers snapped away on the Beaumont stage, the actors indulged in some appropriate mutual admiration: BarBara Luna, dressed in black leggings and black tunic, was told by several folks how smashing she looked. There was also some spontaneity: Iva Withers sang "Dites-moi" with Laurissa Romain. Just before the gang broke for dinner, Withers showed a flash of the old Nellie Forbush spunkiness. David Pittsinger, the current Emile, gave her a kiss, on the cheek. Looking slightly disappointed, Withers said, "A real one!" Pittsinger obliged - full on the lips.
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Timesand the editor of lemonwade.com.