The classic picture of sailors agog in New York remains the 1949 movie "On The Town," in which Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin dash around the city looking for girls. In 2012, the New York's Fleet Week, which is winding down, women stay in the picture, but the search for fun takes sailors to a place that the postwar gang never visited seriously: Broadway. A majority of productions on the Great White Way make tickets available for our military visitors, and this year "War Horse" was among that company: 50 free tickets were set aside for each of four performances over the past week.
On one of those occasions, I found myself standing in the lobby of the Beaumont before curtain and talking to Jay Martinez and Matt Johnson, who are chief petty officers (CPOs). Martinez told me: "Some of the other guys on our ship were going to see a musical, but I've seen Broadway musicals before and I wanted to try a play. Somebody said 'Death of a Salesman' was good, and I like Philip Seymour Hoffman, but the story sounded depressing, so I ended up here."
"Oh, right," replied Johnson, "seeing a story about wartime isn't depressing at all." He laughed. "Somehow, I knew 'War Horse' would offer hope, that it would be sad but not depressing. That's what I'm hoping for."
"I'm pretty sure that that's what we're in for," said Martinez. "I saw the 'War Horse' movie so I know how it all ends." Johnson hadn't seen the movie version, and reminded his friend not to tell him the conclusion. "Don't spoil it for me," he commented.
If both sailors had been to New York before, neither had visited Lincoln Center. "It's very impressive," Johnson said, "though it all looks a little unreal. I can't imagine what it's like to go to the ballet or opera. Maybe next time."
"I was happy to see the Juilliard School across the street," Martinez said. "One of the singers on a recent 'American Idol' said it was her dream to study there. That's how I'd heard of it. Are any of the actors in 'War Horse' from Juilliard?"
I said that at least one of the current cast, Zach Villa, was a Juilliard alum, and that there had been others in the show before.
"What about the horse puppets?" Johnson asked. "Where are they from?"
I directed him to a copy of the Lincoln Center Review on a stand in the Beaumont lobby, and told him that there was a book for sale at the theater's merchandise booth that gave all the details about the fabrication of the animals.
"It's sounds great," Johnson said, "but we're going to be doing a lot of wandering around after the show tonight," and I'm not sure I want to be carrying a big book along with me. Might scare off the girls."
"Or attract some," Martinez said with a grin.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.