This past Monday, April 27, nine members of the South Pacific company took themselves out to a New York Mets game, at the team's new Citi Field. But the guys - conductor Fred Lassen and actors Sean Cullen, George Merrick, Charlie Brady, George Psomas, Bob Lenzi, Genson Blimline, Mike Evariste, and Greg Roderick - didn't just raid the food court and toss back brewskis in their Promenade-section seats. They sang the pre-game National Anthem. (You can see some of the photos here; others are on Evariste's Facebook page)
The catalyst for the excursion was Merrick, who is the indefatigable instigator of many extracurricular South Pacific outings. "My wife has been in Broadway shows where cast members have sung the anthem," Merrick told me. "I didn't see why South Pacific couldn't do the same."
Merrick started placing calls to the Mets offices, and before long - in about the same time as it used to take ex-Met Mike Piazza to round the bases after a dinger - the official word came down: Yes, the Mets would like South Pacificto do the honors.
Now, I'd like to point out here that the great ship which metaphorically constitutes the South Pacific enterprise leans Yankee, not Met. The "Bloody Mary" lyric is not "Her skin is tender as Delgado's glove." I'm willing to concede that in the 1940s, when the show is set, the Mets were not even a gleam in the eye of Casey Stengel, the legendary Yankees manager who was hired out of retirement to helm the Mets' inaugural season, in 1962. But I'm not willing to forget that when the LCT South Pacific had its opening night last year it was not a living Mets icon who showed up to cheer us on. It was a Yankee titan: Yogi Berra.
Lest all this historical context suggest that I am a Yankees fan who considers the cast's National Anthem outing as a form of treason, let me assure you that I have attended almost every home Mets playoff game for the past two decades, and I consider the Yankees an embodiment of imperialism almost as overbearing as Gilbert and Sullivan's Lord Dramaleigh. (Look him up.)
Merrick, too, is a Mets fan, but more ecumenical than I. He said: "I grew up in New York, and I like all New York teams. I don't hate the Yankees at all." (This from an actor who once gave a very -- I'm talking: very! -- fine performance as the American musical theater's avatar of prejudice against Pinstripers: Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees.)
So just how memorable was the National Anthem day at Citi Field? "It was as close to a perfect experience as we could hope for," Merrick enthused. "We had rehearsed the anthem with Fred Lassen the week before, so we knew we had a tight and classy version. We wore our South Pacific softball-team shirts, whose colors are slightly like the Mets'. Before the game, they let us go out on the field. We watched batting practice. The crowd response to our rendition was pretty deafening. And the game itself, against the Marlins, was special. We kicked their butts, 7-1. And we got to witness the first grand slam in the new stadium, by Omir Santos."
It would be nice to report that the whole occasion was topped off with a Kevin Costner-type cliché: one of the fellas snagging a fly ball or something. But no, nothing like that occurred. Nor did it need to, at least not for Merrick: This balmy April night in Queens, New York, when nine representatives fromSouth Pacific collectively fulfilled one of his dreams, also happened to be his birthday. "Singing at the Mets game was better than a cake," Merrick said.
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Timesand the editor of lemonwade.com.