Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Where I went one day..."

I'm not sure what it was about the revival of South Pacific that got my father interested in the notion of going to see it. I think part of it stemmed from my overwhelming and enthusiastic response to the show after I saw it on opening night last April. That was the first time that I noticed he was genuinely listening to what I had to say about the show I'd seen. My parents just know I go and see shows and that it's my thing. My mother enjoys a good show, but is rather wary of venturing down to NYC. The incongruity here lies in her completely unfazed attitude at flying around the country on exotic vacations at the drop of a hat. (There was less drama about her flying out to the Philippines for the birth of her grandson than driving down to Manhattan last Tuesday evening). Neither had ever seen a Broadway show. Until now.

My father's favorite movie is The Sound of Music. One of his other favorites is the 1958 adaptation of South Pacific. So much so that he and I on our various travels have visited both Salzburg and Kauai, HI, taking in the filming locations. So whenever a place with which he is familiar is mentioned, he always interjects subtly under his breath "Where I went one day." (Case in point: he once listened to the Ricky Nelson classic "Travelin' Man" realizing he'd been to every single place listed in the song). My brothers will attest, if we had a $1 for every time he said "Where I went one day, " we'd be considerably well off... Anyway I digress...

Back in August, the subject was brought up again after my father came home from a golf trip and mentioned that his friend had talked about wanting to see it, but not being able to get tickets until March. Then it became something he wanted to do, so I set to work getting tickets. Anyone who has tried to purchase tickets for this revival knows that it is one of the hottest tickets in town (huzzah for LCT!) and you have to really scope out the tickets. For my parents, where we sat wasn't an issue, as long as we got there.

For years as a child, I had always asked for tickets to see shows in NY and everytime I was given a gentle dismissal, as if to say "I know, but that's not going to happen." So I gave up on my family as theatre-going companions. They understood that this was something I enjoyed doing, but aside from obligatory viewings of myself in educational theatre expositions in high school and college, they were mostly homebodies. So my excitement levels were already amped up for this, since they would be on my turf, following my lead and this was really also a testing area to see if this is something they will do on a continual basis.

This was all planned out in August. Then October came around and my family was knocked for a considerable loop. My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He had an idea of this back before South Pacific was even a discussion, but wasn't 100% certain until his actual diagnosis. Barring my father's need for privacy, he didn't tell anyone that he was having a biopsy. But when it became clear that surgery was the option, he had to let us know. My first suspicions came when I heard two red flag alerts: "I don't want radiation or seed implantation" and "I have tickets for South Pacific on the 4th, this won't interfere with that, will it?"

Thankfully everything is fine. His diagnosis was made in stage I, meaning he was cancer free as of his surgery; however, I was a little concerned as his surgery was twelve days before the show! If anyone reading has ever met my father, they know he's a hard-working, quiet, engaging person. He was in the Marines and worked as a paid firefighter for 36 years in Scarsdale, NY. He is also incredibly stubborn. He had surgery on a Thursday and was home from the hospital on Sunday. Monday was a comic sight as my mother was yelling at him to take it easy as he insisted on working around the house. However, given the minimally invasive nature of the procedure these days, recovery time is much less than it was even five years ago. (Everything is done with robotics; with pinpoint accuracy not even afforded the naked eye and hands).

Anyway, Tuesday rolled around and there were no worries. As I said in my post from that day, we did our civic duty and voted. Around 3:30 in the afternoon we got in the car and drove down to the city. My parents had never been to the Lincoln Center area, but we got there easy enough. In an amusing case of "small world," a gentleman approached the ticket booth in the garage and nodded a hello to us. After a moment, he turned to my mother (who at 4'9" and a rather jovial high decibel Scottish brogue is a rather memorable character) and told her "I feel like I've seen you somewhere before." Lost she shrugged and we exchanged the usual pleasantries. As soon as she spoke, it clicked in for him. "If I'm not mistaken, you live around Peekskill, correct?" Well, we were clearly making a connection here. Turns out he was Jehovah's Witness that had come to prostelyze his at our door several months prior. My mother, a devout Catholic, adamantly tells them immediately that she has no interest in converting but will never be rude enough to not answer the door and will usually engage the ladies and gentlemen in a brief conversation. Turns out my mother kept him around for the Cliff Notes version of the family history as he turned to me and asked "Is this the archaeologist?" (My brother). The amount of information he recalled from the conversation was either incredibly remarkable or incredibly creepy, possibly a little bit of both. My mother, with a cosi fan tutti shrug, just turned to us and said "I just can't get away wherever I go."

We emerged at Lincoln Center through the Met. They are undergoing some intense renovations at the moment, so it's a little easy to get lost. We exited into the main plaza where they took in the beauty of that area (and were impressed with the set-up regardless of the all the paneling and detours). Dinner was at O'Neals, where I looked on with a smile as they couldn't get over the grand treatment that was given them at the restaurant (they really treat the customers spectacularly there). We ate early as to avoid the rush and to give us ample time to relax and digest leading to the performance. Originally we were going to walk around a few of the blocks as they wanted to scope out the surrounding area, but poor weather prevailed. We instead headed over to the Vivian Beaumont and waited for the house to open.

A lot of this time I entertained questions from them about this particular house and about Broadway etiquette in general. They were fascinated by the presence of a bar and the concession stand, with both charming the hell out of the girl behind the counter. (My mother could make friends with the enemy during battle, she's got that gift; my father can be one hell of an innocent charmer when he wants to be).

The show was resplendent; even more nuanced and affecting than the first time I saw it. Kelli O'Hara is giving one of the most dynamic, three dimensional performances in NY; she's just continued to grow since opening night. It is easily one of the most naturalistic performances I have ever seen in a musical. William Michals was on for Paulo Szot, which led me to quip "Paulo who?" Michals, a little older and perhaps not as physically imposing as Szot, acts the role with sincerity and can sing the hell out of the score. Not only sing it, but act it as well. His was one of the most impressive understudy performances I've ever witnessed. Matt Morrison is back after a month hiatus and is sounding more legit than ever. Danny Burstein is still giving Luther Billis the Bert Lahr treatment. And Loretta Ables-Sayre is still as impressive as ever.

I have to admit I was a little on edge during the performance, not so much because of my enjoyment of it, which was incredible, but moreso because I was curious/nervous as to how my parents were reacting. I realized that I hadn't been in an audience with my parents since my dad took us to a George Jones concert in the now-defunct Opryland for his birthday back in 1994, so I had basically nothing to go on in gauging their reactions. It's very interesting though, that their body language could help pinpoint it for me. My father has the best poker face you'd ever see. When I saw him crack a smile during the first Billis-Bloody Mary exchange, I knew he was enjoying it. My mother, on the other hand, is very exuberant in her reactions; she practically fell out of her chair cheering on Loretta Ables-Sayre at the curtain call and couldn't stop talking about how much she enjoyed her performance on the ride home.

It was amusing to be the one conducting their evening. They purchased the souvenir program and a magnet to bring home. He briefly considered a t-shirt until he heard the prices. (Frankly, I don't blame him. I wouldn't plop down the money for a glorified Hanes myself). While my mother talked on about what she enjoyed (which was basically the entire show; I heard nary a complaint the entire time), my father drove on with a very calm, peaceful and satisfied look on his face. Another tell-tale sign he was enjoying himself, he was cracking quiet jokes to me before, during and after the show. (It was not nearly as bad as it may sound, in fact both were ideal audience members - my mother even unwrapped all her lozenges beforehand after reading the notice in the playbill - but for what it's worth, be wary if you sit next to him at Mass, it'll be a struggle to maintain your composure).

Given their immense enjoyment of South Pacific, can I get them to see anything else? I'm not sure. My father is generally content to be a homebody - and venturing into NYC for an evening at the theatre isn't something I can expect him to do on a regular basis. Perhaps if Julie Andrews might appear in something (ohhh, does he love her...) or if The Sound of Music were to come back in another revival, maybe he'd consider it. My mother would probably be up to more trips to the city to see things, as she has seen many of the classic musicals in their film adaptations. (I'm going to work on a friend of hers to go see Gypsy. She's enjoyed the movie, but hasn't experienced the real thing).

It's interesting to open up your world to people for the first time. To see people enter a Broadway house for the first time, take in their surroundings and audience neighbors (The twosome hit it up nicely: Mom with the woman from Ohio on her left; Dad with the woman to his right), I have to say (and this seems a little weird, but oh well) I was incredibly proud to have witnessed this milestone. To have them see how transportative the Broadway experience can be, especially with one of the first-class productions in NYC, well who could ask for anything more?

And now when someone mentions Broadway to my father, he can now say "Where I went one day..."

3 comments:

Joseph Gomez said...

I was scared to read your post because its length was daunting at first glance. But I started reading and your story totally enraptured me. That's rad-ish! Uber cool.

Great writing, TAAL

SarahB said...

Absolutely brilliant. Bravo!

Esther said...

What a wonderful story! And you are such a terrific son for making it happen.