Last week on the occasion of my lovely wife’s birthday, we made our way to Lincoln Center in New York to catch the current hit revival of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic, South Pacific.
For my wife this was the first time really seeing it. She had seen a high school production many years ago but didn’t remember much of it. For my part, I have seen the movie version with Mitzi Gaynor several times however it has been quite a while for me as well. I wish to make a point about how far we have come since the fifties when this play was written but hold off on that for a moment so I can tell a story first.
We arrived early, had a nice dinner at O’Neals just down the street, and made our way to the theater. Once in the lobby, my wife wanted to go to the bathroom before sitting down. Sensing danger in being alone, I gravitated toward other ad interim foundlings waiting for their significant others likewise seeking protection in numbers.
While standing there waiting for my wife, a gaggle of women made their way across the emptying lobby toward the bathroom with obviously the same intention as my wife. I glanced at the woman in front of the group and immediately recognized her as country music and sitcom star, Reba McEntire. She has a distinctive and easily recognizable appearance; the bright red hair will do that. As she walked by I thought to myself, too bad my wife missed it, she enjoys celebrity sightings. She recently saw Alan Colmes on the street, that wasn’t nearly as quality sighting as I just had. Too bad. As the group passed, there was a younger woman with Reba (I call her Reba now) that looked familiar as well but whom I did not immediately place.
A moment later my wife exited the bathroom and told me “I think I just saw Reba McEntire in the bathroom?” Happy for her, I informed her that I saw her too. As I finished my drink I scanned the group of other male lavatorial orphans next to which I still stood. There I saw another face that I recognized. Waiting for Rebes (I call her Rebes now) was veteran sitcom and stage actor John Schuck. You might not immediately recognize the name, but you might recognize his face. He has long resume including the suicidal doctor in the movie version of M*A*S*H and thirty years worth of guest T.V. appearances as well as the unfortunate turn as Herman in the new Munsters. My wife on the other hand had no idea who I was talking about. As it turns out, McEntire and Schuck had worked together some years ago on PBS’s Great Performance performing South Pacific. Small world.
Anyway, impressed by my own powers of celebrity recognition, I finished my drink and we made our way to the ticket taker (actually scanner). This happened to coincide with Red’s exit (I call her Red now) from the bathroom and we ended up on line right behind her and John Schuck. So at this point my wife’s eyes were fixed on Reba (she still calls her Reba, they’re not tight like me and Red) and she took no notice of the young woman with her. For my part, I was looking at the young lady because she did look so familiar. As the ticket scanner scanned her ticket she smiled and said thanks and that was when I figured it out. I had seen the young lady perform live on television just the night before on American Idol. The young lady was Kelly Clarkson. I turned to my wife and said, “Honey look, that’s Kelly Clarkson!” But by the time she turned, Kelly (I call her Kelly now) had already gone through the door.
My joy and relief at my wife’s Reba sighting turned sour as my she was bummed with the knowledge she was standing next to Kelly Clarkson and didn’t even notice. Since we were actually there for the show we made our way to our seats.
If you haven’t seen it, South Pacific is a classic musical set on a South Pacific island during World War II. The main drama of an otherwise fun musical surrounds two of the leads wrestling with themselves over their own prejudice — to be specific —the then somewhat radical notion of interracial relationships, marriages, and children. I thoroughly enjoyed the show but could not help note how far we have come since this play was written. We have an interracial President and every other news anchor is named Shannon Wong or Soledad McGillicutty. The whole notion of building drama around interracial relations seems so silly now, dated. Good for society – but not so good for the show.
Even with the lack of drama, it is a very good production and a thoroughly enjoyable show. As we exited the theater and turned toward the walkway to make our way to the street, right there in front of us were Reba, Schuck, and Kelly Clarkson. We walked along next to them until we got to the street when my wife turned to me with a big smile and said “That was Kelly Clarkson!” Yes, I thought. It has been some enchanted evening. Happy birthday, honey.