South Pacific has reached the point in its run where there are not only cast comings and goings, but there are cast comings and goings and comings-back. Darius Nichols, for example, was with the show from the beginning of rehearsals this past January. He was hired as a Swing -- an actor who fills in as needed -- among the Navy guys.
Nichols left the show during the summer to take one of the principal roles in Hair, presented by the Public Theater in Central Park. Hair will be going to Broadway sometime in 2009, which meant that Nichols, whose regional work includes Five Guys Named Moe, and Smokey Joe's Cafe, was available to come back to South Pacific.
To say he has been greeted like the Prodigal Son is an understatement. "Darius!" exclaimed the show's main child actors (Laurissa Romain, Luka Kain) before a matinee this week as Nichols came in through the stage door. Later that day, Nichols -- who will be filling in for cast member Mike Evariste (Tom O'Brien) until November 9th -- told me: "This cast of friends are so dear to my heart. I can honestly say that I have laughed more these past two days than I have in the past two months. It's so nice to be welcomed back into this show with such open arms."
As a Swing, Nichols got to do what most of the South Pacific cast has never been able to do: watch the show as an audience member. Observing it again on Tuesday of this week, Nichols said, "was like watching it for the first time. There were still moments of spontaneous laughter and moments where I got choked up."
Asked if he undertook anything to prepare for his return, Nichols remarked, "I did get a major haircut. I grew my hair for Hair, even though I was wigged. For Hair, I wanted to be in solidarity with the rest of the cast and same holds true for South Pacific. So before I knew I would be asked to, I cut my hair again to be in the style of the show. I figured: it's only hair and it will grow back."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com