Even though it's been 33 years since he attended kindergarten at the Little Red School House in Manhattan, Reeve Carney isn't too old enough to still be teacher's pet.
The actor, who plays Orpheus in the Broadway smash "Hadestown," invited his former teacher, Cleo Banks, now 92 and living on Long Island, to attend Sunday's matinee performance. The reunion continued afterward with dinner at Keens Steakhouse in Manhattan, which also was attended by Carney's mother and his co-star Eva Noblezada. In between courses, they looked over photos Carney had brought from his days at the liberal arts school.
"It was wonderful day," said Banks, who added, "I loved the show. He did all the things he was supposed to do in a very nice way."
Carney even arranged for a car service and had his mother pick Banks up from her home. He and Noblezada drove home with Banks after dinner.
For Carney, 38, it was a chance to pay back the woman who helped inspire him to overcome his timidity and explore his imagination.
"I remember at the first parent-teacher meeting, she called my mom into the classroom and said, ‘The only problem with your son is that he's too polite.’ And it's true. I’d go up to a group of kids and ask, ‘Can I please play with you guys?’ and they'd say no," Carney said.
That critique inspired Carney's mother to enroll him in an improv acting class in Manhattan's SoHo district. "That really helped me become less shy and more assertive in certain ways."
Carney became especially anxious to reconnect with Banks after his grandmother, who was roughly the same as Banks, died last year and "never got to see me in the show," he said.
After contacting the Little Red School House, Carney's mother located Banks. Carney then called her and invited her to the show.
"It was kind of surprising, but it was very nice," Banks said.
And though she didn't immediately recognize her student, who she hadn't seen since he was a tot, he had no trouble recalling his old teacher.
"Her hair color changed, but otherwise, she looked exactly the same," Carney said. "She was so incredibly warm. It was like hanging out with an old friend or family member."
And they'll probably do it again. At the end of the evening, Banks asked, "So, when are we going out to dinner again?"