Theater buffs may want to hang out at the Starbucks across the street from the Hippodrome about an hour before showtime. My 13-year-old daughter and I have noticed that that's when a steady stream of cast and crew pop in for a last minute jolt of caffeine.
Last Thursday, we sat by the door, and she gave me a quick nod every time someone with a South Pacific laminate walked past. At one point, the nods came fast and furious, her eyes got wide, and it seemed like the entire cast might be coming over for frappuccinos. When three cast members sat at the table next to us and started running lines, she practically swooned.
A budding actress, she got a candid, behind-the-scenes peek at what goes on before a Broadway show, and, as she noted, it wasn't that much different than her drama camp productions. It's a small, but important, perk that comes from having a viable theater scene on Eutaw Street. It's my dauighter's Westside story, one she'll probably tell her kids about. And it certainly didn't hurt that the production was phenomenal.
Based on the Tony-winning Lincoln Center production, the show wrings meaning and might from the classic musical. Its social message continues to be relevant—with lyrics like "You've got to be carefully taught/to hate and fear" still ringing true—and the tunes hold up well, especially chestnuts like "Some Enchanted Evening" and "A Cockeyed Optimist" sung by the operatic Marcelo Guzzo (as Emile de Becque) and the spunky Katie Reid (as Nellie Forbush), respectively.
But Cathy Foy-Mahi really steals the show. She plays the character of Bloody Mary with touching vulnerability tempered by a resolute strength that gives her rendition of "Happy Talk" the emotional complexity that's needed to transcend the dozens of sappy renditions we've been hearing for decades. That's no small feat.
Add an ensemble cast that's both gifted and energetic, spiffy sets and costumes, and excellent lighting and sound, and you have a truly great show.
As it turns out, the fellow running his lines was part of the ensemble, and he flubbed one of those lines. So you can probably catch him at Starbuck's tonight and tomorrow, about 7 pm, running those lines again and generating more Westside stories for local theater-goers.