What’s Happened To Broadway?

May 22


Broadway Has Gone To Hell!

No, not the shows. In spite of all the four-letter words, pyrotechnics, and kinky boots, plays are pretty much the same as they have been for years: not as great as the Golden Age (before our time, of course), but a lot better than your average high school musical (lower case letters).

It’s the audience that’s changed.  
And not for the better.
Felix Unger of Odd Couple fame liked to call himself Mr. First Nighter, the “swell” (a great word, alas no longer used) who attended Broadway openings with some lucky lady, both dressed to the nines.

These days, he’d be in Oscar Madison mode in shorts and flip flops even in winter, in need of a haircut and possibly a bath. His date would be dressed for the beach, the gym, or maybe the neighborhood brothel. Both of them would be on cell phones.

If you don’t believe me, look around at the next Broadway play, presuming you can scrounge up enough money to afford the tickets. In case you haven’t noticed, Broadway is getting more and more expensive. It’s not unusual for “discount” tickets to be a hundred bucks what with all the little extra fees, like “handling.” I thought that “handling” was part of selling me the tickets, Silly me.

The Book Of Mormon is probably great but I may never find out because I can’t bring myself to spring for $250 for mediocre seats. Premium tickets for shows like this can be as high as—if not an elephant’s eye (Where is Oklahoma audiences when we need it?)— then pretty damn close: $500 bucks or more.

So wouldn’t you think that that couple from Duluth (and yes, yes, we need the tourists, and yes, yes, New Yorkers are just as bad), having shelled out hundreds of clams for a ticket, would dress a little better than they would to wash their car or walk their dog. Hell, no! And they act, no pun intended, even worse.

The terrible behavior of theatre-goers, according to today’s New York Observer is getting out of control. The headline called it: THE GREAT FIGHT WAY!  
Then added:


And Someone Is Going to Get Hurt . . .

PacinoGlenGarry“The fight broke out during the first act of Glengarry Glen Ross.

As Al Pacino and Bobby Cannavale circled each other on the boards, a well-dressed woman in the audience was noisily working her way through a cellophane package of Twizzlers. When a man in the next seat shushed her, the woman’s thuggish husband loudly intervened.
The exchange became more heated until the husband—who could have passed for a second-tier personal injury attorney from Planet of the Apes—challenged his adversary to ‘take it outside.’

For far too many Broadway-goers, like Our Lady of the Twizzlers, enjoying a night at the theater has come to mean behaving like they’re relaxing at home, watching the big-screen from their sofa. Such a sense of entitlement, and the pushback it provokes from touchy fellow audience members, has resulted in an increasing number of aggressive confrontations, which have now joined more commonplace theater annoyances like texting or a ringing cell phone.”

The article also mentions this alarming incident: National Review columnist Kevin Williamson became an Internet hero last week after writing about his experience seeing Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 , a show I very much want to see but so far haven’t been able to score anything but premium tickets for $250, which includes a little dinner but still. Anyway, we are told that “after exchanging words with a woman whom he believed was using her phone to Google things during the performance, he snatched it from her hand and threw it across the room, where it hit a curtain. So she slapped him and summoned the event space’s security director.
The theater official attempted to make Williamson stay on the premises, as the woman was considering pressing charges. He declined and went home to write an angry column. Talk about War and Peace!

“In a civilized world, he said, ” none of this would have happened.

Civilized world? On Broadway? Fugeddaboutit!

Denzel Washington almost lost it during one performance of Fences. When a bunch of kids were talking in the audience, he stopped, walked to the middle of the stage and stared them down.
“First they giggled, then other people started going, ‘Shhh! Shhh, be quiet’. I just waited, and then I kept going,” he says. He was ready to jump down there if they didn’t stop. They stopped.

Okay, it worked, but an interruption of the performance is hardly a great addition to your theatre experience. And, as the Observer points out, one audience member (me?) telling others to be quiet isn’t optimal either.

“There are the ‘shushes’ that are louder than any cell phone ringing,” one reviewer said. “I used to be the one who was, ‘Will you please shut up!’ Then you get so embarrassed because you realize you have acted disproportionately to the original issue. “

PatKiernanI don’t think it’s disproportionate at all. But it makes me nervous to have those loutish people mad at me for the rest of the performance. Especially if they’re sitting behind me.

When talking about the Great Natasha Phone Throwing Incident on In The Papers, my favorite feature on New York One, that cute Pat Kiernan admitted that while “two wrongs don’t make a right” (he’s so Canadian), Mr. Williamson was his hero for standing up to the Googling woman (we’ll make Pat a real New Yorker yet).

And speaking of How To Be a Real New Yorker, I saw a charming little off Broadway play of that very name last week. At one point, they asked for an audience member to come on stage (thankfully not me) and an adorable woman did her part for art. I guess it’s cranky of me to mention it, but the thing was, she was dressed in stretch calf-length pants and top, perfect for a workout session. Okay, she was from Canada, and this was OFF Broadway, but still.

Am I the only one who thinks that how you dress has something to do with how you act? There’s a reason that the military, not to mention private schools and Our Lady Of Shape Up Or Ship Out, have uniforms. You tend to behave when you’re a bit more formal. No one expects tuxes and gowns at the theatre anymore, but would a clean shirt and long pants be too much to ask? I guess so.

And as for the outrageous prices, that’s probably one of the reasons people feel entitled to act any way they damn well please. I paid good money for this, so I’m going to talk, text, take pictures, fight (!), and eat, eat, eat. Bag after bag of M&Ms, complete with crinkling packages and loud crunches.

I don’t know about you, but I’m fed up. I’d go to the movies instead. But that’s worse!


On the other hand, these same people stand up and whistle and cheer for just about every performance of every show, which makes the actors happy. I think.
 For more about this, see: Woody Allen & The Standing Ovation

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