Monday, January 12, 2009

Patti's Turn: Lettin' Loose

Patti's Turn: Lettin' Loose

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).

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At 12 January, 2009, Blogger Chris Van Patten said...

Ruined that performance? Psh, no! I wish I could have been there!

At 12 January, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Chris, I would not have traded being there for anything.

At 12 January, 2009, Blogger Esther said...

Wow, good report Steve. You definitely had a night to remember.

And I definitely applaud Ms. LuPone. She's right - some people don't know how to be polite. Besides being illegal and rude to the actors on stage, taking photos during a show is also distracting to the people sitting near you. There's just no consideration.

Personally, I've become increasingly annoyed by talking during a show. I couldn't believe it when the man sitting behind me at "Billy Elliot" began talking to the woman next to him as soon as the musical began. I had to turn around and ask him to be quiet. Did he really think I paid over $100 for a ticket to listen to him talk and not the actors on stage or Elton John's music? I'm still seething over that one!

At 12 January, 2009, Blogger Vance said...

Esther, at least they weren't full on making out next to you like the couple was at WSS (like FULL on back of a movie theatre makeout btw). Maybe that show just makes people frisky cause my friend just went and the couple next to HER was apparently making out the whole time too.

But seriously, what's WRONG with people? Gawd...

At 12 January, 2009, Blogger cola boy said...

Could any one other then Patti get away with that? I'm glad she had the guts to stand up for good etiquette.

At 12 January, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Cola Boy, Given that 99.9% of the audience was there to see Patti LuPone and that it was the final evening performance, I don't think many people really take issue with what she did ... aside from some folks on the chat sites who likely weren't even there.

But to answer your question, no, there aren't many who could do what she did.

At 12 January, 2009, Blogger becca hatch said...

this is an amazing post, steve! i'm not much of a theater buff as you know, but i do appreciate it. you succeeded in capturing all the significant details of an intense and rare moment; i feel like i could have been there! thank you!

At 12 January, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, Like you, I just can't believe so many audience members show such a lack of consideration. We need instruction in schools, because obviously too many folks just aren't getting it at home.

Vance, I know West Side Story is a love story, but geesh.

Becca, It's moments like the one I witnessed that make me prefer seeing live performances than anything that's been recorded. It's all in the moment!

At 13 January, 2009, Blogger Alicia said...

That is an unbelievable story. The stuff of which legends are made - seriously. Glad you were there so that you could share your personal recollection with us.

Brava, Patti! (Even if it was a misunderstanding...)

At 13 January, 2009, Blogger Roxie said...

Steve, it was great to meet you too! See you again soon!

At 13 January, 2009, Blogger SarahB said...

yeah, the cell phone was from the Russian women (tourist? I think they were from Brooklyn) sitting directly behind me. The couple beside me sat with their arms around each other and kissed over and over which was just a tad distracting. But I'm not going to sit and rant about audience behavior. There are other things in the world to get riled up about.

At 13 January, 2009, Blogger Dale said...

Misunderstanding or not, there's no excuse for all the terrible behaviour in audiences I've been in. I border on the ridiculous barely breathing or moving so as not to distract a performer or anyone around me. I'm there for them the same way they're there for me. I wish more people were thoughtful enough to stay at home. There should be a song along the lines of 'Why Do The Wrong People Travel?' that Elaine Stritch sang in her show.

At 13 January, 2009, Blogger Erica said...

Steve, As you may remember, several years ago I assistant directed The Rocky Horror Show (the original play)

We had a situation of a "patron behaving badly" as we later termed the situation backstage.

One lady not only let her cell phone ring ... but started conversing LOUDLY in the middle of a scene. Most of my cast tried to continue, holding lines when she got especially loud. (I started to figure out how I could make my way to the other side of the audience) But the spunky lady playing Columbia, never breaking character, started staring the lady down. The Lady, as soon as she noticed, quickly hung up and a very satisfied Columbia went back into the scene.

At 14 January, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Erica, I love that story. Sounds like she handled it well!

At 14 January, 2009, Blogger kari said...

This is fabulous, SOB -- and the photo caps it off perfectly. Bravo!

At 14 January, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Pretty frenzied photo, isn't it?! Almost as frenetic as the GREAT ONE.

At 14 January, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Erik says...

Personally, I don't buy the "she mistook her own photographer for a rude patron" story. Just a feeling...

At 14 January, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Really Erik? Why else would she do it?

At 15 January, 2009, Blogger Leah said...

I had no idea that Benanti slammed the phone down because of the rude lady behind us who had her cell go off! I keep learning new things :)'re an AWESOME writer! :D

At 19 January, 2009, Blogger Chris Van Patten said...

For whatever it's worth, there is now audio of this momentous occasion:

At 19 January, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Chris, Thanks for sharing. It just shows you that my recollection wasn't quite as spot on as I would have liked. But I was close.


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