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Seabees on Parade

Boys will be seamen: Members of the male chorus of the South Pacific tour share some war stories. logo

Jaymes Hodges, John Ayres, Kevin Covert, and Lenny Daniel
relaxing after a performance of South Pacific
(Photo: Michael Portantiere)
There is nothin' like a chorus boy! Though the star attraction of the current, long-running tour of South Pacific is Robert Goulet, audiences and critics across the country are also smitten with the production's Seabees. I recently got a chance to speak with three of them when I caught the show in San Francisco.

"At the beginning of the tour, there was a little bit of disorganization," says John Ayres. "We would sometimes check out of a hotel and end up waiting two hours for a bus to pick us up and take us to the airport. But that kind of thing got ironed out early on." The production opened in Minneapolis last summer, starring Michael Nouri and Erin Dilly, but Ayres joined it thereafter when it actually started touring -- and therein hangs a tale.

"The tour began on September 17," Ayres relates. "I was doing a show in Munich and I flew in to New York on September 10 to audition. I got in right before midnight and I was supposed to audition at 10am on the 11th. By the time I got down to 890 Broadway at about 8:50 that morning, one of the towers had already been hit. The audition was canceled, of course. I had to walk home and I was really kind of afraid, because I'd just quit a job and didn't know if this one was going to happen. But they called me on Wednesday evening and said, 'We'll see you on Thursday at 6:00 if you can make it.' They offered the job to me right there. I remember hugging the casting agent and saying 'Thank you, thank you, thank you!'"

According to Ayres, "Response to the show has been pretty amazing, I think due to the timeliness of the piece right now. For the first six or seven months, we were getting constant standing ovations. That has died down a bit lately, but I think that's primarily because the West Coast is a different kind of audience. Goulet is great in the show; people love him, and he's been lovely to work with."

Another of the Seabees, Jaymes Hodges, says that there haven't been a lot of amusing onstage mishaps during the tour, but he did recall one in particular. "Right after she joined the company, Gretha Boston [as Bloody Mary] forgot the boar's tooth bracelet one night," he relates, "so she had to keep using the shrunken head during the entire scene. We didn't think it was a big deal -- but we didn't realize how often that stupid bracelet is mentioned until she didn't have it. It's the pivotal prop and, when it wasn't there, it created a domino effect: Every time it was supposed to be mentioned, the lines had to be changed. We were all standing there, watching the scene unravel before our eyes."

As for the vagaries of touring, Hodges has a funny story about an unusual Christmas dinner in Indianapolis with his partner, Lenny Daniel, who is also in the show and serves as dance captain: "The producers had a catered dinner for us before the show, at about 3pm. After the show, everyone was hungry again. So there we are in downtown Indianapolis and there is nothing open. Lenny and I finally spotted an IHOP that was still open, but we rolled our eyes and passed it by. We went to our hotel but there was no food there, so we ended up doubling back to the IHOP. We sat down to eat and, by the time we finished our meal, every member of the company had showed up there. It was dreadful."

The point Lenny Daniel insists on making is that "the one true hero of this production is the lighting designer, Ken Billington. Why? Because, in every city, we get reviews that mention the well tanned, buff men's chorus. One of the reviewers called us Chelsea boys. And I thought, 'Damn, that Ken Billington is good,' because it's all done with lighting. The guys in the chorus are attractive and have big voices but, child -- the last word I would use to describe these men is 'buff!'"

Needless to say, much has changed since the original Broadway production of South Pacific opened in 1949, especially as far as the ability of actors to be openly gay is concerned. "We used to call ourselves 'The United We Stand Tour' after 9/11," says Daniel, "but then one of our crew guys got shirts made up for us that say 'The Don't Ask, Don't Tell Tour.'" Jaymes Hodges notes with pride that, "in San Diego, we had a softball match against a local radio station. About 20 of us signed up. The straight boys on our team couldn't hit or catch the f***ing ball -- but the gay boys rocked! We were very impressed with ourselves."

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