Tuesday, September 29, 2009

On the Road blog: OPENING NIGHT SUCCESS

by Brendan Lemon

There's a certain song title from "South Pacific" that for 60 years has been used as a party theme to the point of cliché. But on Tuesday, September 22, in San Francisco, the cliché fit. Don't take my word for it: the theater critic of the San Francisco Chronicle used that familiar theme in the opening sentence of his review: "It's some enchanted evening, all right," wrote Robert Hurwitt.

Hurwitt and his critical colleagues launched the national tour of "South Pacific" with glowing notices, but I was more interested in what the cast members experienced that night at the Golden Gate Theatre, where the show is running through October 25, so I turned to a couple of the actors.

Both Mike Evariste, an ensemble member who also plays Henry, and Eric L. Christian, of the ensemble, are veterans of the road: Evariste has done "Rent," "Smokey Joe's Café," and "FAME," and Christian has toured with "Aida," "Chicago," and "Carousel." But they both seemed to think that the "South Pacific" opening night was special.

"The audience was really responsive," said Evariste. "We got reports backstage that some members were so affected they were crying and that others were humming and singing the songs in the lobby at intermission."

For more rehearsal photos, click here.

Christian concurs. "We got a standing ovation on opening night, and on the night after. That was a big relief for the cast, not because we were worried that we weren't good, but because we'd all been working so hard to become a team and we hoped that our effort would come across."

Evariste, who was a member from the beginning of the this production's first go-round at Lincoln Center Theater in New York, added, "During previews at Lincoln Center we were kind of nervous. The show hadn't been on Broadway for 60 years, so we all felt this obligation to make it as good as possible. The pressure on the tour cast leading up to San Francisco was a little different: everyone knew that the show had won seven Tonys in New York, and people wanted to live up to that reputation."

Audiences and reviewers agreed that they had. But what about the opening-night party - the reward for all the cast and creative team's toil? Well, it was held at the Great American Music Hall, on O'Farrell Street, which has been around since 1907.

"There was a backdrop there in the spirit of the show," said Christian, who is coming off a long stint with "South Pacific" in New York. "It's such a great atmosphere: food, drink, a d.j. Bart [Sher, the director of the production] gave a speech, and said how proud he was of us." Evariste added: "Bart's speech was inspiring. He wished us luck on the road, and said he was confident that we would spread the story of 'South Pacific' all over the country."

Other important figures in this staging of the Rodgers & Hammerstein show were also in attendance on opening night: Bob Boyett, the producer; Bernard Gersten, the executive producer of Lincoln Center Theater, or as he calls it, "the mother country"; and Ted Chapin, president and executive director of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization.

"I didn't see anyone at the party," Evariste said, "who didn't seem to be having a good time."

END

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