So you’ve seen Broadway audiences scream like banshees (Rent), drunkenly sing along (Rock of Ages), catcall the shirtless leading man (A Streetcar Named Desire), collectively weep to the point of distraction (Next to Normal), and give the occasional mid-show blow job (American Idiot). But Saturday night on Broadway, I pondered the appropriateness of another kind of audience reaction, and asked myself the following question:
Is it ever acceptable to boo during the curtain call of a Broadway show?
I’ll tell you who wasn’t carefully pondering this question: The guy six seats down from me who was booing his face off following the evening performance of Evita at the Marquis Theater. He knew his answer, and it was absolutely something like, “Oh hell yes,” because when Elena Roger took the stage for her bows, he let it rip. And this was real, bona fide booing. It wasn’t a ululation of joy, or a mock-boo for a well-played bad guy. (Think Phillip Boykin in Porgy and Bess.) This was a you-stink, thumbs-down boo.
Such a forceful reaction provoked a strong reaction itself. Almost instantly, the people around him stared, guffawed, and shushed him. They were, in effect, booing the boo-er — a kind of strange meta-frustration that rippled through our whole section. As a member of the audience sitting in the same area of the theater, it was mortifying to think that the actors onstage could hear this happening — and they undoubtedly could. No one wanted to be associated with that guy, in that particular moment.
But appropriateness aside, here’s the thought I cannot shake: I kind of agreed with him.
This revival of Evita, as it turns out, is resoundingly terrible. The creators have gutted the show of all its callowness and sneaky meanness — the very things that make it kind of juicy and fun. It is a drooling, labotomized sleepwalk that contains no sex, no politics, and no energy. In his performance as Che, it’s as though Ricky Martin was given only one direction: OK, smile. Elena Roger does not fare better. Her Eva Peron seems determined, for sure, but Roger’s unwillingness to give the woman any self-awareness or even the tiniest glimmer of humor sinks the whole show, and makes it as one-dimensional as the lines on the show’s ugly poster. She also sings like a bumble bee.
In line for the ladies room after the show, the woman standing behind me even lamented, “She wouldn’t make it past the first round on American Idol.” The unfathomable wrongness of that statement — for nine different reasons — is not lost on me, but the woman had a point. Hal Prince is rolling in his grave, you guys, and he’s still alive.
On Saturday night, if my heart could have made a noise, could have leapt from my chest and created audible sounds, it would have been booing its face off, too. Rationally, I understand that it’s completely rude to boo at the theater. This is not a football game or a session of Parliament or a Creed concert. And even though the man’s response was clearly aimed at Elena Roger, there was a whole cast of actors on the stage, most of whom bore exactly no responsibility for the horror unfolding around them.
But then I had to wonder. When I came home from the theater and I tweeted, “Woooooow that was bad,” — words I completely stand by — wasn’t that like my own personal boo? And wasn’t this as public an act as anything that guy did in the theater? On in internet, anyone can do similarly in an instant, and to an audience far larger than the one at the Marquis Theater on any given night. In fact, I kind of felt for that guy, the boo-er. When I tweeted, I got support from a few people who responded in agreement. He just got a faceful of STFU.
If I’m OK with my own response, and if the woman in line felt comfortable sharing her thoughts with the entire third-floor ladies room, why is the boo-er any less entitled to his analog shoutout? Dissent is rarely polite or well-timed, no matter the format. And it has a purpose. If that boo, that lone thumbs down amidst the sea of wailing Ricky Martin fans, puts it in someone’s head that Broadway should try a little — or a lot — harder than this particular production does, I can’t really see the harm in that. I’m not advocating that everyone boo the next time they hate something on Broadway. You’ll be hoarse by October, for one thing. But maybe there is always a place for some occasional, good old fashioned shattering of the audience status quo. I mean, it works for Parliament.