"I wish I could tell you about the South Pacific," begins the James Michener book that eventually launched South Pacific the musical. "The way it actually was." For my part, part of me wishes I could tell you about my South Pacific. That way that IT - the backstage version of what Beaumont audiences see every night - actually was. I say "was" rather than "is" because after 18 months of chronicling this enterprise I'm about to go on extended leave. I won't be far away - in fact, I plan to cover newer LCT productions for this website, and to post items about South Pacific when hats-and-horns-type occasions warrant it - but I won't be dispatching bulletins from these stage tropics regularly.
Do I feel a little sad about that? I do. Not only do I like everyone in the South Pacific enterprise (I refuse to say "the South Pacific family": I'm pleasantly sad, not wretchedly sentimental), but I still, after all these days, these weeks, these cast changes, enjoy the show itself. I keep waiting for that moment when I'm walking through backstage at night and hearing "Honey Bun" for the millionth time and suddenly hearing that inner voice that says, "Okay, I'm now officially sick of THAT." But such a voice has never come. Marcel Proust - the dementedly gifted writer that Emile de Becque invokes every night to the unliterary Nellie- once said that "contrary to received opinion, there are very few true masterpieces, because a true masterpiece is something that, even with repeated exposure, you don't tend to tire of." South Pacific is a masterpiece.
Moving from the Proustian sublime to baser matters, I'm often asked why I don't report more gossip on this blog. After all, what's a backstage chronicle without a bit of tittle-tattle? I understand such prurient inquiries. But being indiscreet about backstage romances (if there are any) and after-work partying would not be appropriate on LCT's official site. There's also the issue of my own personal safety: I'll tell South Pacific's backstage secrets at the point that I've been fitted for cement shoes and decided to water-ski in them on the Hudson River.
Apart from the issue of trust, the reason I haven't used this blog to retail rumors is that I honestly believe it's more interesting to hear what the people involved have done and thought about their work than about their personal lives. It is their words and deeds that have interested me. How does a dresser pass the time backstage while waiting for the next costume change? Some of them knit. Why did a trumpet player in the orchestra paint his instrument orange? In part, to match his sneakers. What do actors do every night when they leave the theater at 11? Some go out, most go home, and one of them, who has asked for anonymity, puts in an hour of volunteer time at a homeless shelter. (There are some big hearts here.)
I could go on and on and on with this stuff, but I'm going to break the rule invoked above against sentimentality and mention something that director Bart Sher said during an early rehearsal (February 3, 2008, to be exact). He said to the cast: "You may not think I mean what I'm about to say, but I do: If you want this show to succeed as much as it's capable of succeeding then you guys have to love each other." At the time, I rolled my eyes inwardly at this remark. (Don't forget: In my other life I'm a critic.)
I understand that remark now.
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Timesand the editor of lemonwade.com.