For the lead actors of South Pacific, this month has meant a nonstop march through the theater-awards circuit, but for Robert Lenzi, a member of the show's ensemble, May has brought another kind of event: graduation.
Lenzi, known to director Bartlett Sher as Robert but as Bob to friends and family, received an undergraduate degree earlier this month from the School of Drama at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He was not, however, in attendance for the cap-and-gown festivities. He was engaging in another kind of ritual, the one that occurs every night when he and his fellow male ensemble members get ready to make their entrance onto the Beaumont stage.
"When Paulo [Szot] hits his last note of Some Enchanted Evening, " Lenzi said the other afternoon during a conversation in the Beaumont, "we get in a huddle just offstage and say 'Seabees!' Then we go on."
Such a guy-type spirit is in keeping with what tends to go on in the Seabees dressing room a couple of decks below the Beaumont stage. "There's a lot of testosterone down there," Lenzi commented. "We play darts and cards and fantasy football. It's all very authentic but it also gives us the kind of togetherness we have to display on stage."
Lenzi, who was born in Chicago but grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (where Oscar Hammerstein II had a home), mentions a more personal instance of boys-being-boys behavior -- from years ago. "I started getting the acting bug when I was a kid and saw Indiana Jones. I was so inspired that I would go outside with a hat and a whip and pretend that I was Harrison Ford battling the bad guys. So when Spielberg came to see South Pacific the other night it was pretty special for me."
Lenzi first edged into the orbit of the Lincoln Center Theater community when he was still in high school. "I started coming in to the city to take voice lessons on the weekends with Vicki Clark. This was around the time she was starring in The Light in the Piazza. She introduced me to Bart and to Ted Sperling [South Pacific's musical director]. I owe a lot to her."
Good vocal training has been especially useful to Lenzi in his capacity as understudy to Matthew Morrison in the taxing tenor role of Joe Cable. (Andrew Samonsky also covers the part and went on for Morrison during previews.) "Cable," Lenzi says, "can be a hard character to track. What makes it fun and challenging is that you don't see all of Cable's big moments -- his getting malaria, his eventual fate."
Has all of the South Pacific hoopla and hard work been compensation for the fact that Lenzi missed his college graduation? "I would have liked to experience all that with my classmates. But this show is a completely crazy out-of-body experience. It's unreal. When my dad came to see South Pacificon opening night he told me that during the overture" -- with 30 musicians playing that glorious score -- "he said to himself, 'This is the real deal.' I agree."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Timesand the editor of lemonwade.com