Yesterday, I went to see The Color Purple at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre on 45th Street. It was a very diverse audience of all ages and colors. I missed the original production in its first outing. The commercial that aired promoting this revival was a recording studio commercial of Jennifer Hudson and Cynthia Erivo singing together. Thrilling. Great hook, but for some reason, I still hesitated. BUT, when I heard the incomparable Heather Headley was taking over for Jennifer Hudson...it was a must see. For those of you that don't know Heather Headley, she sprang into the forefront of Broadway stardom when she played the title character in Elton John's Aida and then was the original Nala in The Lion King. Love, love, love her.
May 18, 2016 matinee was the day. The start time printed on the ticket, in the newspaper, on the internet is 2pm. It's clear, clear, clear, but who cares? Well, certainly not many of the patrons. The show actually didn't begin until 2:10pm. At 2:30pm latecomers were seated during the show. At 2:45pm more latecomers were seated. What the hell? During the final, moving, deep, quiet number of Act 1, the staff to serve drinks and food came barreling down the stairs like a herd of cattle and got in their places.
When I began going to Broadway shows over 35 years ago, it was such a big event. As the years have gone by, like everything else, it has gotten more and more casual. We've heard plenty of stories or been in the audience when cell phones have gone off disturbing both the actors and the patrons. BUT Dear, Mr. and Ms. Producer, you can ask more from your audience. You can start the shows on time. In London and Toronto, they begin making announcements at 10 to the hour about the start time and it actually starts on time. The audiences know it and expect it. In NYC, people expect it to start late, so many arrive late. I'd be thrilled if we didn't reward tardiness. I'd be thrilled if latecomers didn't get seated until intermission and must watch it on closed circuit in lobbies or just miss the First Act altogether.
When you buy a ticket, it's sort of a contract and should be treated as such. I took Stage Management in college and there are clear guidelines, but no one follows them. The "house" should open 30 minutes before curtain, but many times they are late. That should change. They should stop selling alcohol and food promptly at the stated curtain time. Many theatres have improved the ladies room facilities so they have made huge strides from that perspective, thankfully. There are still long lines, but move far more quickly than ten years ago.
Mr. and Ms. Producer, we can be re-trained. You can ask more from your audience. The announcement at The Color Purple worked and no one's cell phone went off. We can arrive on time if you tell us that we won't be seated late. Live theatre is not a sporting event or a concert. Live theatre is magical and we are on a journey with the actors getting enveloped in the story and emotion. When people arrive late, it takes us out of the magic. Yesterday's disruptions were far and away some of the worst I've witnessed. Ask more of us, please. Demand more of us. We paid, you got the money, make us live up to our end of the contract.
The incredible Cynthia Erivo and Heather Headley and the entire cast of The Color Purple deserve more. If you haven't seen this production, go, run. It is thrilling, beautiful, funny, and deeply moving. Worth every penny and many discounts are available. Look at your ticket and get there on time. It is the least we can do for these incredible performers. It is the least you can do for your fellow patrons. It is the least you can do if you bother to buy tickets. Run, do not walk. Something very special and magical is happening on the stage of the Jacobs theatre.
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