As noted here yesterday, Patti LuPone actually stopped cold the second-to-last per-formance of Gypsy after catching one boneheaded audience member taking photos during "Rose's Turn" (as opposed to the one above that I took in a whirl of excitement upon her exit from the St. James Theatre Saturday evening).
As promised yesterday, here's my full recollection of what transpired, along with a few thoughts in retrospect.
Just prior to the onset of "Rose's Turn," during that wonderful final dust-up dressing room scene between Rose and Gypsy (Laura Benanti), a cell phone rang ... loudly ... from somewhere in the audience. While there's never a good time for a cell phone to ring, this was obviously a particularly inopportune moment as LuPone's Rose had just bitterly knocked most of the contents of Gypsy's dressing room table to the floor as required for the scene.
Then that phone went off. LuPone and Benanti froze until the offending phone stopped ringing. But it was evident that the two actresses were far from pleased. As the two actresses were picking up the pieces of their argument, literally and figuratively, a visibly annoyed Benanti threw the prop telephone receiver at the phone's base. Rather appropriate, given the offense. Sadly, the climactic scene had been severely compromised, if not ruined, thanks to some careless, inconsiderate putz who didn't bother to turn his/her phone off.
So with that necessary piece of background, LuPone was set to begin the showstopping "Rose's Turn" number just moments later for her penultimate time. If you're a theatre lover, you know that this is the tune that seals the deal and makes the show what it is. It requires the artist to summon every ounce of countless emotions that have been bubbling beneath the surface to the top. Rose needs to be absolutely fierce.
Right as LuPone was getting revved up, something snapped. Suddenly appearing knocked a little off-balance (perhaps from a flash, although I personally didn't see one), LuPone threw up her arms in seething rage and demanded the orchestra and to some unknown person to "Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop taking pictures right now!"
LuPone looked straight into the far reaches of the orchesta section and began jabbing her finger toward the offender shouting, "Who do you think you are? How dare you! Who do you think you are?"
She continued to rebuke this person saying it was the third time she had seen him/her take a photo and that she refused to go on with the show unless he/she was removed from the audience. "Get 'em out of here," she inveighed repeatedly. LuPone proceeded to stand off to the side of the stage until someone gave the "all clear" that the offender was removed.
LuPone came back center stage, still clearly disgusted, but offering that she simply could not understand why people attending theatre these days display such little respect and don't know how to be polite. Then, in transition, she charitably declared, "And all of you, every single one of you, except for that person, has respect, and I and the rest of this company appreciate it."
With that, LuPone took a few paces back, put on the smock she dons at the beginning of the scene, took one very deep breath to recompose herself and regain the moment -- with the audience on its feet, giving her a standing O -- and proceeded with "Rose's Turn" once more from the top. After she concluded "Rose's Turn," the crowd was back on its feet.
As regular readers know, I have grown so incredibly weary of audience members treating theatres as their own personal living rooms. The beauty of seeing live theatre is the communal experience of witnessing artists provide unique performances that can never be exactly the same from one night to the next. There is a trust we must have with each other to be respectful and well-mannered.
But there's also a trust and bond we have with the artists themselves -- who, by the way, can actually hear us and see us -- that becomes violated whenever we rustle through paper and plastic bags or talk above whispers or engage in any of the other nuisances that serve to undermine a performance. It also becomes a violation of law when we decide we're above those laws by letting our cell phones chime or taking photos when it's actually an infringement of copyrights.
It's extraordinarily rare for performers to take the dramatic step of chastising an audience member the way Patti LuPone did. Personally, I had never seen it before, but I know of a few isolated incidents that have since become the stuff of legends. In this case, as I see it, the offender got his/her comeuppance as if it was on behalf of all the other self-absorbed, inconsiderate jerks I've ever seen devalue a performance because they thought they were above it all.
In retrospect, I don't blame Patti LuPone for finally being pushed to say "enough." She has been an outspoken champion for better theatre etiquette for a long time, although usually via off-stage interviews.
If anyone thinks she ruined Saturday night's performance, I submit to you that if theatre management had dealt with all the egregious infractions of their own stated rules more vigorously, individuals would not flaunt them with growing frequency. Those rules -- and the law -- must be enforced. But at the St. James, it was clear that the ushers were not properly empowered to do so. So Ms. LuPone, in order to salvage the performance on behalf of the audience took the unusual step of taking matters into her own hands.
Yes, by stopping the show, LuPone really changed the atmosphere, but I would also argue that she really charged the atmosphere as well, making this "Rose's Turn" all the more of a truly fierce tour de force. If nothing else, Patti LuPone offered one performance that everyone in that particular audience will remember and talk about for the rest of their lives.
UPDATED (1.12.08, 7:15 p.m. EST): In a rather bizarre twist, Broadway & Me tells us now that it was all a huge misunderstanding. B&M notes:
Now I hear from an insider who was there that the whole incident was a simple misunderstanding. It seems that Patti had a photographer following her around backstage for several days doing a magazine article about her and the poor fella went around front to document some of her iconic moments in the show. And says my source, "That was the person she had thrown out! She forgot he was there!"As Broadway & Me has so eloquently stated, "How can you not love Broadway?"
This story was updated on 1.23.08.
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).