No need for a doctor in the house--this broken leg's lucky
Mr. Bloom, hasn't anyone ever told you It's bad luck to say, "Good luck!" on opening night? If you do, I tell you It is certain by the curtain You are through! --from The Producers, the new Mel Brooks Musical As a theatrical novice, Leo Bloom makes a shocking but understandable faux pas in the Mel Brooks musical The Producers. It's the opening night, and the accountant-turned-impresario wishes the cast good luck. Yikes!
That's a total no-no, unless you're out to sabotage the show – as his partner, Max Bialystock sets out to do. In the land of theatre superstition, it's actually bad luck to wish your colleagues good luck. Instead, Bloom should have told the cast members to "break a leg." That's what show people say to each other as they are about to go on stage, especially on special occasions.
By wishing a performer good luck, you might jinx her or him. So don't tempt fate. Wish them a catastrophe instead. Or curse at them, as the French and Italians do. In other words, the thinking goes, with the gods of the theatre off your tail, you stand a decent chance that nothing will go wrong during the show. Why "break a leg?" As with many theatrical superstitions, there are many imaginative—if unreliable—back stories to explain the origin of the phrase.
One favorite is that breaking a leg is an elegant metaphor for taking a bow or making a curtsey, i.e., bending at the knee. Another is that the curtains that hang in the wings on the sides of the stage, parallel to the proscenium, are sometimes called "legs." You have to pass through or "break" the line of drapery to take your curtain call. And perhaps the most colorful, if least plausible, story involves John Wilkes Booth.
The actor-slash-assassin was thought to have shattered a limb in leaping onto the stage of Ford's Theatre after shooting President Abraham Lincoln. That may be the most catastrophic theatrical entrance of all time, and by invoking it you are sure to fend off any possible good-luck jinx. So if someone tells you they hope you experience bodily harm on opening night, don't be alarmed. It's just their way of wishing you well.
This video was made by Theatre Development Fund and filmed on location in Times Square. Here’s the team: