The first full rehearsal of South Pacific took place this morning on the lower level of Lincoln Center Theater. Surveying the roughly one hundred people who had assembled for the occasion (if the thirty members of the show's orchestra had attended, the room would almost have had a Times-Square-on-New-Year's Eve crush to it), director Bartlett Sher drew the apt analogy. "I feel as if we're undertaking a troop deployment every bit as challenging and large-scale as those undertaken on the show's South Pacific islands during World War II."
Much less subject to metaphors -- military of otherwise -- was the enormous excitement in the room, which began when LCT Executive Producer Bernard Gersten started things off with a warm welcoming speech. It was thrilling for everyone to know that they are involved in the first revival of South Pacific in a Broadway house since the original, which opened in 1949 and closed in 1954.
But underneath that monumental fact were more personal reasons to cheer. Whether you were LCT Artistic Director Andre Bishop, for whom the production represents the fulfillment of a career-long dream, or a chorus kid for whom this represents that first big break, the morning was, to use a patented Nellie Forbush term, about as far from "bromidic" as it's possible to be.
The festive spirit of the morning found a more literal reflection in a remark made by Mary Rodgers Guettel, the daughter of South Pacific's composer, Richard Rodgers. (Alice Hammerstein, the daughter of the show's lyricist and book writer, Oscar Hammerstein II, also spoke.) Rodgers Guettel said that she remembered little of the show's premiere performance on April 7, 1949 but that she did vividly recall that, afterwards, there was "an especially fancy party. Usually, we assembled at Sardi's and waited for the papers with the reviews. But not for South Pacific. That one was really special."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.