Sunday, May 18, 2008

My audience story

I saw The Lion King during my last trip to Broadway, and I absolutely loved it. I'll be writing a full review soon, but I wanted to share my own audience story.

This was my second Disney show. I saw Mary Poppins last summer. And of course there are hundreds of children in attendance, some of them as young as 5 years old. It's all very cute and it's great to see so many kids at a Broadway show. (Less cute is the way Disney hawks souvenirs inside the theatre before the show starts. I felt like I was at a baseball game.)

You simply can't have the same expectations from an audience at a Disney musical that you have at a performance of, say, August: Osage County or some other other adult-oriented fare. Both The Lion King and Mary Poppins are nearly three hours long, and you can't expect a 5-year-old to sit there in complete silence for that stretch of time. All things considered, I thought the youngsters at both shows were very well behaved.

Still, at The Lion King I got kicked in the back of the seat a couple times and the kids on both sides of me were a little chatty. They used their indoor voices, but every few minutes a little voice would pipe up with questions - and they had lots of questions. "Who's that?" "Is he dead?" were a couple of the ones I remembered. I can't blame them. They were exactly the kind of questions I would have asked at their age if my parents had taken me to a Broadway show.

At intermission, I looked at the little boy who was kicking my seat (it really only happened a couple times, and he didn't do it on purpose) and he was so nattily attired, all I could do was smile. He couldn't have been more than 7 or 8, and he was dressed in a blazer, blue shirt and khaki pants. He was with his grandparents, and when I complimented him on his wardrobe, his grandmother sounded a little disappointed that he wasn't wearing a tie.

Yeah, the talking did get slightly grating after awhile, but it didn't ruin my enjoyment of the show in the least. I think that The Lion King is probably better when you see it with hundreds of kids, and catch some of their wide-eyed amazement and enthusiasm. I mean, why would I want to see it with 1,500 cynical, jaded adults like myself? (If you're planning to see it and you don't have any kids, I suggest borrowing one from a friend or relative.)

I just took it all in stride. But apparently it was too much for a man sitting in front of me. At one point during Act II, he turned around, put his index finger to his lips and firmly shushed the little boy sitting next to me on his mother's lap.

Now, that shocked me. First of all, what did this man expect at a Disney musical on a Sunday evening? Plus, he was with kids of his own! Also, I would never shush a child I didn't know. I can understand the guy's dilemma. It's not like he could quietly approach the boy's mother. He did it in the firmest, quickest and most unobtrusive way possible.

But still, I felt bad for the kid. He was probably around 5, and most likely at his first Broadway show. I could tell that he was pretty much enthralled by the whole spectacle and he was much too young to realize he was supposed to save his questions for afterward. I just felt like this man crushed his enthusiasm. I mean really, it wasn't that annoying. I hope the whole incident hasn't scarred the child (pun intended!) and put him off the theatre altogether.


Sarah B. Roberts said...

Disney shows aren't the only one who sell their crap, er I mean souvenirs, in the theatre.

And I have told a child to be quiet in the theatre. Somebody had to do it and I felt not a single twinge of guilt.

Esther said...

I'm sure Disney would sell stuff in the theatre during the performance if they could get away with it!

I guess with all of the posts that people have written about improper behavior in the theatre, I just wondered if there was a different standard for a show that's obviously going to draw a lot of children.

I just figure that at a show like The Lion King you're going to have a lot of small children and there's going to be some talking. I don't know, maybe it was the harshness of the shushing that got to me. Plus, it's very easy to make me feel guilty!

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, Without seeing exactly how the gentleman shushed the child, I obviously can't tell you what I would have done in the same situation.

However, I can tell you that I have shushed little children when their parents have neglected their responsibilities in ensuring their children are well-behaved.

Just because they have purchased a ticket for their little tike doesn't give them carte blanche in ruining the experience for others. Perhaps the father in front of you knows best and has succeeded in properly preparing his children with the manners necessary to take in a $100 per ticket performance so as not to ruin at least $1000 worth of fellow theatregoers' experiences.

The parents of the offending child should know better. If children can't learn proper etiquette from their own parents, perhaps they learned something new from the gentleman in front of you.

Esther said...

Hey Steve,
You have a good point about maybe the man knowing from experience with his own kids what to do in that situation. And his mother did get him to quiet down considerably after that!

I just checked the Disney web site and they recommend The Lion King for ages 6 and up. This boy might have been younger. Maybe he was too young to be there. I mean, you have to be able to sit quietly for an almost 90-minute stretch, until intermission. Certainly, a parent should know that in determining whether or not their child is ready for the experience.