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Booing on Broadway: Revolutionary… or Just Rude?

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.

Have you ever booed at a Broadway show?

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{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Ally July 24, 2012, 10:10 am

    I’ve heard similar things about this revival. While I understand that people paid lots of money to be watching what SHOULD be something spectacular, they should always be courteous. If you have a legitimate complaint that is really itching at you, there are people you can go to for that. Shoot an email afterwards, post a blog (oh, hey… :) and twitter has become a great platform for stuff like this…that’s what I do after shows, too! I tweet. but don’t “boo” the actor, there is always something you don’t know about the production. Some of what they have done very well might not be their fault (as far as direction and motivation goes, of course…someone’s own voice is pretty much their fault) and there isn’t a ton they can do. Great post, I really liked it. Will be reading more of your blog.

  • Laura July 24, 2012, 11:20 am

    Totally agree with your assessment of the show and of Elena Roger. Such a disappointment all around.

    The tendency of audiences to give every show a standing ovation makes the booing thing even worse. I attended “Evita”‘s opening weekend, and during curtain, a quarter of the audience stood to applaud Ricky Martin, and it spread like a wave until everyone was standing – even the group in front of me who loudly booed Roger. Talk about mixed messages.

  • adam807 July 24, 2012, 11:46 am

    The difference between booing and tweeting or complaining on the ladies’ room line is that you’re not tweeting AT the actor. True, she could see your tweet, but unless you @ her that would require actively looking for it. Now, I’m not saying that means you shouldn’t boo. Actors and other artists put themselves and their work out there, and being judged and criticized is part of that. While it’s not something I think I’d ever have the balls to do, I can see it as a reaction to the fact that we’re expected to applaud at the end of a show whether we liked it or not. Withholding your applause or refusing to stand isn’t really going to make your displeasure clear. But a boo-er is definitely making a strong choice to send a message to the actors!

    • Caitlin July 24, 2012, 12:36 pm

      I didn’t see your reply before I posted mine, but I basically said the same thing. Therefore, I agree with what you’ve said.

  • Caitlin July 24, 2012, 12:35 pm

    While I’ve never personally booed at a show, or a specific actor (because that is clearly what he was doing), I don’t see why he shouldn’t be allowed to express his feelings on what he just saw. How is it any different than us giving applause or even standing ovations? All it is is just the exact opposite of that, but it’s still his feelings on what he just saw. Generally if I don’t like what I just witnessed, I don’t applaud. I don’t do anything but sit there and go “..what?” to myself. That’s my right to express how I feel and it’s his right as well. Good for him to have the nerve to, in that moment just the same as EVERYONE ELSE, to share his thoughts on Elena’s performance the only way an audience member in the house at curtain call can. Could the performers here him? Probably. Did it hurt Elena’s feelings? More than likely. But you can’t please everyone.

  • Doug July 24, 2012, 12:50 pm

    They boo at the opera all the time. LOUDLY, and with pride.

  • RS July 24, 2012, 1:40 pm

    I couldn’t disagree more about Elena Roger. I know the complaints about her voice are not uncommon on Broadway, but they do sadden me, as I find it a thing of beauty. Maybe it’s shot at the moment? It’s a hard score to sing every day and it does do damage (just as Patti LuPone!). But anyway, I think her performance is multitextured and very humorous indeed, so I was a bit baffled by your opinion. But fair enough.

    With regard to revival, I loved it, and I’m a big Hal Prince fanboy. So much so that I saw it repeatedly in London and on Broadway. I do agree it’s been whitewashed a bit in its Broadway incarnation — Ricky Martin’s Che has zero bite. It’s a shame that it’s getting this kind of reaction on Broadway, as it got unanimous raves in London, as did Ms Roger, who was the toast of the town.

  • Gui July 24, 2012, 2:00 pm

    too bad Broadway audience is so rude and so shallow they need to have theatre stars smiling at them every now and then. Also, is too bad they ahve to refer to “American Idol” as a parameter, just like if any of those little guys (or judges) could stand on a stage 8 /6 times a week dancing, acting and singing their hearts out. Elena Roger is a talented woman, so is the tone of her voice not of your taste? ok, that happens, but booing really? after giving a deep performance of a character that is quite complex, and of which is nothing to smile or laugh about it only shows that good theatre audiences are not in the Marquis or in Broadway lately. Go back to London or Buenos Aires Elena, open minded Patti Lupone free minds wait for you there!

  • Brian July 24, 2012, 2:40 pm

    I saw Ms. Roger play Evita in London back in 2006 and thought she was wonderful. From what I’ve heard of the new cast album and the clips I’ve seen, she’s equally wonderful here. I am disappointed, but not altogether surprised, by the American reaction to her. In an era where people are used to American Idol style belting, not to mention Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth clones, Elena’s voice is bound to be a surprise.

    Personally I love how unique she sounds. I prefer an imperfect voice, one that trembles with emotion rather than forced, pop-star prettiness. Ms. Roger is not Patti LuPone or Elaine Paige, nor does she aspire to be. Her interpretation is completely her own. While I do agree that moments of Michael Grandage’s production fall flat at times, I also think it’s a perfectly viable, alternate interpretation of the piece. I’m glad they didn’t simply restage the Prince version; it’s interesting to see different takes on the same work. It’s very elegant and a far better compromise at accuracy and nuance than Alan Parker’s film was.

    As far as I’m concerned, Elena Roger is too good for current Broadway audiences. I hope she finds an audience who will respect her gifts for what they are, not what they want them to be.

  • Anthony July 26, 2012, 10:13 am

    I’ve never booed at the theatre but have chosen to remain seated clapping quietly amongst a sea of legs who’ll stand for just about anything as my own silent boo. It’s more respectful to the actors who have worked hard on the show but also acknowledges the fact that you didn’t enjoy what they’ve done.

    And no one can disagree with someone who’s sitting.

    On a further note, this past weeked I ‘mooed’ at a production of Rent I saw.

  • Alejandro August 17, 2012, 12:14 pm

    Que pena me da que gente que tiene la posibilidad de ir a Broadway cuando guste tenga semejantes groserías con una actriz excelente como Elena Roger. Yo viaje desde México para verla, me deslumbró su actuación al igual que su voz. solo ella y ninguna mas pudo darle el toque autentico de Eva Peron. Creo que la gente que hace estas acciones solo disfrutan de realitys como american Idol con una calidad pobre en canto. Aprendan a decir Rio de la plata, florida, corrientes y nueve de julio como suena no americanizado

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