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The theatre is not your shower or a karaoke bar
Has this ever happened to you at a Broadway musical? House lights dim, stage lights go up, actors begin singing the opening number… and so does the audience? Personally I find this trend disheartening, and it seems to get worse every season. As an avid theatregoer, I pay top dollar to hear the pros perform, not the stranger in Row E. I understand the impulse, of course. I too have seen many musicals that I know lyric for lyric. But while I don't mind if someone silently mouths the words, you shouldn't raise your voice in song.
I once overheard a theatregoer singing along at The Phantom of the Opera; it really tested my patience, and she was no Christine Daaé. Even hearing about singing along secondhand makes me cringe. About six months into Hamilton's Broadway run, I was chatting with a man at the stage door who bragged that his kids sang along during the performance because they loved the original cast recording so much. While I admired their enthusiasm for the show, I hated the way they expressed it.
Singing along seems most rampant at jukebox musicals featuring well-known pop songs such as Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and the Go-Go's Head Over Heels. Perhaps that's why Summer: The Donna Summer Musical dispenses with traditional audience etiquette and actually encourages people to sing and dance! I know that's the norm at pop concerts, but usually the sound system is so loud you can't hear the fans. Theatre is a different medium with a different set of expectations, which, until recently, included the rule that everyone should STHU.
Unfortunately, like cell phones ringing in the audience, I fear singing along is the new normal, but there are ways to corral it. Recent revivals of Pippin and Hedwig and the Angry Inch had numbers when the audience was prompted to sing along on specific lines, which was quite fun. And the West End production of the Meat Loaf-inspired musical Bat Out of Hell recently announced special sing-along performances featuring the lyrics projected on a screen.
Perhaps in the future, so many audiences will be singing along that musicals will have to host "quiet performances" akin to the quiet cars on Metro-North. Until then I beg you: Choose silence. If you absolutely must sing along, book a karaoke room instead of a Broadway show.
Erika Gould is an editorial and advertising writer who is passionate about theatre.
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