We go to theatre to see if someone will #$&@ up.

There’s a very popular thread on BroadwaySpace right now called “Mess-ups on stage”.  It’s 8 pages long and features tons of comments like this:

i saw legally blonde the musical back in march and during positive
laura bell’s wig fell off right before the part when she’s supposed to
say “girls, how is this helping? he’s not even here! he left while we
were shaking junk”. well, laura bell thought on her toes and said
“girls, how is this helping? he’s not even here and i shook so hard my
hair fell off!” and everyone was laughing and cheering so hard that she
missed her cue and they had to bring the music back around.

Wigs falling off, technical screw-ups, and so on, are all things Producers spend millions trying to avoid, but ironically, audiences treasure them . . . and talk about them.

And as long you’re not talking about Billy Elliot-sized preview problems, most shows aren’t hurt by them (in fact, those preview problems don’t seem to be affecting BE’s grosses).  Some shows are even helped.  That’s why at least two shows that I know of, Will Rogers Follies and Falsettos, had planned “mess-ups” written into the show (that’s right – that dog jumping back on the stage 3 minutes after the dog act was over happened every night).

What does this tell us about our audience?

Live theatergoers are different than people who just sit in front of a screen.  They are thrill seekers.  They like the risk involved with seeing something unfold right before our eyes.  They like thinking that anything could happen, and sometimes does.

You do too, don’t you?  I bet you all remember something that went wrong in a show that you saw.  And I bet you’ll never forget it.

Even those people who sit in front of a screen are getting more and more titillated by what’s happening live.  Look at this quote from a NY Times article about the Rosie O’Donnell’s live variety show:

Promotions for the
show remind viewers that “anything can happen”; in a decade of
time-shifting and fast-forwarding, “live” is an important sales pitch.  It’s
not only “American Idol,” the nation’s most-watched show, that proves
the point: NBC’s only show among broadcast’s Top 20 for the week ending
on Nov. 16 was Sunday’s live N.F.L. game. And the network’s most storied franchise, “Saturday Night Live,” has had a robust year.

Live entertainment, including the theater, isn’t going anywhere, no matter what people may say.  In fact, as we become more and more inundated with 2-dimensional forms on entertainment on our tv, laptop, cell phone, etc., the live theater experience becomes more rare, and more valuable.

As long as we keep F-ing up every once in awhile.

Got a favorite “mess up”?  Comment about it below.

I’ve got two:

  • Matthew Broderick coming out in the finale scene of How To Succeed with his fly down – then zipping it up and flashing us a hugh Ferris-Bueller sized grin.
  • The Goodbye Girl with Bernadette Peters and Martin Short.  Bernadette was under the weather that night, but trouper that she is, she was out there, even though the audience could tell it was a tough one for her.  Until, Mr. Short made her laugh during “Paula”.  The show got so much more fun for all of us at that moment.


Related Posts


Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.