- By Ian Young
- Entertainment and Arts Journalist
Should you be allowed to sing in a musical? After unwanted crowd turnout led to the interruption of The Bodyguard and the call of the police, the issue of audience behavior – particularly since the pandemic – came into the spotlight.
“Please refrain from singing.”
These words greet the public on posters at the gates of the Palace Theater in Manchester and inside the foyers.
Singing in a musical might not seem like a big deal. That’s often part of the fun.
But on Friday, the backing vocals of an overly enthusiastic audience member during the big climax of I Will Always Love You sparked an argument, a fight — and a news story that exploded.
“If people had ruined it for everyone, I would have been absolutely devastated,” said Burnley’s Zoe, on her way to see the show the following evening.
“I will sing – but quietly,” she added.
There is a difference between a theater performance and a concert, she says. “It’s a musical and you’re there to hear the lyrics, hear the words, the emotions, everything.
“This is not a gig where you’re standing on chairs and things like that. You’re here to feel the emotions of The Bodyguard, and that’s what I’m here for.”
Other Saturday viewers also said they enjoyed singing – up to a point.
“I don’t see what’s wrong with singing to some extent,” said Anna of Greater Manchester’s Hyde.
“But if those are the rules, then you have to follow the rules… When it comes to drinking, it can get a bit boring.”
Burnley’s Amanda said: “We’ve visited quite a few [shows] and we sang – but not wanting to do a solo or anything like that. You wouldn’t want to stand up and stand out from the crowd.”
Husband Simon added: “If other people around you are doing it, you join in, right? There are Tina Turner and Abba musicals where everyone sings, so that sometimes part of it.”
The Bodyguard is adapted from the 1992 film starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, and the musical version, starring Pussycat Doll Melody Thornton, features many other Whitney hits.
It’s an often tender and tense love story, rather than a raspy song. Home posters show that there have been problems before.
And not just in Manchester – a former tour venue, the King’s Theater in Glasgow, asked patrons to ensure “the professionals on stage are the only people entertaining us with their performances”.
Host Alison Hammond said she would be “devastated” if she wasn’t allowed to sing. “I’m not even going to go to this show now,” she said.
Vanessa Feltz added, “Isn’t the whole point of going to a musical you know that you sing along to all the tunes you know…really, really loudly while eating ice cream.”
Co-presenter Dermot O’Leary explained: “Here’s the thing. There’s singing, and there’s singing, right? Nobody minds someone next to you singing the words for himself.
“[If] I paid money to see Pussycat Dolls member Melody Thornton, I wouldn’t want anyone, like with a cat choir next to me, to drown her.”
It was dismissed as “a bit of a spoilsport” by Feltz, who – along with Hammond – has since felt the wrath of the Twitter theatre.
End of Twitter content, 1
End of Twitter content, 2
But it’s not just about singing.
A person who identified himself on Twitter as a palace reception supervisor writing“The police weren’t called because of a few customers singing, they were called because of the UNPRECEDENTED levels of VIOLENCE asking them to stop chatting.”
Misbehavior from general audiences has become a growing problem, according to many artists and theater workers.
Actor Charles Brunton told BBC Breakfast: “It’s been really [worse] since the pandemic, since the reopening of cinemas. It seems to be on a weekly basis [that] I hear a horror story of a case and an audience member going mad, or a situation disrupting stage performance.
“Before the pandemic, it was quite rare for cases to occur. During the lockdown, we were sitting around watching TV shows or theater productions that were on TV, and obviously we were doing that in our living room. We could chat, we could chat, we could fight, we could do whatever we like. And people seem to have brought that to the theater.
Chinese food in the front row
We might also be looking at our phones or eating takeout.
“It really affects you,” actor Kieran Brown told BBC Radio 5 Live. “It’s not even just about singing and chatting etc. I’ve heard other stories of people selling Chinese takeout in the front row, or at McDonald’s.
“It’s so disheartening to look down and see someone’s face lit up by a phone, or just see people chatting or walking in and out,” he continued. “You are so easily distracted as an artist, and we have a lot to think about.”
Brown said he thinks a lot of bad behavior is fueled by alcohol. “Our reception staff are here for your comfort and safety,” he said.
“They go to work so they don’t get threatened with violence. They don’t get paid enough to deal with drunken punters and be threatened with being thrown over the edge of the balcony, as I’ve heard that’s is produced.
“I think a lot of the problems don’t necessarily come from people singing, but from the reaction when they’ve been asked to stop singing. That’s when they start to get violent.”
Performers have pointed out that fans are often encouraged to sing – but usually only at the end, during a finale when cast members ask the crowd to stand up.
At The Bodyguard, it happens when the cast come together to deliver one last performance of I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Or at least that’s normally the case.
On Friday, the show ended before most spectators had a chance to participate.
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