Vietnam vet pays homage to veterans in South Pacific
Touring musical South Pacific will be in Austin to entertain audiences just in time for Veterans Day. Considered one of the greatest musicals of all time, South Pacific tells the story of two couples’ romances at a US Naval base on an island during World War II. The dramatic musical explores the realities or war and human prejudice.
In an interesting twist, the veteran actor playing Captain George Brackett in South Pacific is a veteran himself, with a long history of military service in his family. Robert Biedermann has been acting for 33 years. He’s also a Vietnam veteran. He says his background as a Navy brat, a member of the NROTC and a Vietnam vet all helped prepare him for this role.
“It helped quite a bit considering that the show is all about the military. My training and experiences in the NROTC and of course my time in Vietnam has a great similarity to what takes place in this show as well the era in which it takes place.”
Biedermann was in Vietnam for almost a year, serving as a Lieutenant on the USS America aircraft carrier.
Biedermann’s father was a Captain in WWII and Biedermann says he is very proud of him. He says he considers the role of Captain Brackett to be a salute to his father and to all veterans.
One of the Austin performances of South Pacific falls on Veterans Day.
“That day will be very special in that I do do a part where I address the audience as if the troops were out there and I know that my thoughts will be in the direction of all the Vets who will be seated out there,” Biedermann says.
I asked him why he thinks classic musicals like South Pacific are so timeless.
“The short answer is that they are based on subjects that are still relevant. The problem of race relations, though improved, has not been resolved. Instead of glorying in our differences, we still judge.”
He’s been in nine Rodgers and Hammerstein shows and says South Pacific is, “...not only entertaining but also informative and at times controversial. The subject matter is often timeless and of course the music is classic as soon as it is written.”
Biedermann had a near death experience on Easter Sunday in 2002 that he says changed his outlook on life and performing. He finished two performances of the Wizard of Oz and had just arrived at his home in Silver Spring, Maryland.
“I pulled into the garage and had it open. I was still in the car when a kid comes up and says, give me your money.” He says the kid backed off after he told him his wallet was in the house. “I revved up the engine and turned to look out the back window and pushed the electric door opener and as the door came down, he shot three times.”
Biedermann’s assailant is still serving 25 years in prison and Biedermann still has a bullet in his head that he says serves as a constant reminder that he got a second chance. He says it’s the best thing that ever happened to him.
“It gave me a completely different perspective. I’m now completely truthful and I tell people how I feel and I look at things differently.”
He says the shooting was a wake up call that made him a much better person.
“I don’t take more than my share and hopefully I take a little less. Everybody gets a bullet in their head when they need it. The idea is to pay attention when you get it and figure out why.”
He says his thoughts about that day don’t affect the parts he takes on, but they do affect how he performs.
“It makes me more appreciative that I am doing what I love and gives me more incentive to do a full show… I give my all, even if I’m exhausted. I can’t cheat the audience and I can’t put it on automatic pilot.”
Thankful to be alive, doing what he loves and honoring the memory of his father and other veterans of war, Robert Biedermann will take the stage along with the rest of the cast of South Pacific at Bass Concert Hall from November 8 to 13. Audiences will get a chance to hear a classic score, with songs including "Some Enchanted Evening" and "I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair". For tickets and information, go to Broadway Across America Austin.