So is it okay for audience members to sing along during musicals?

romain2
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Buried in the lengthy Bad Theatre Behavior thread is a conversation about that recent article on The Root site written by a writer angered that a man shushed her mother who was singing along at Ain't Too Proud. The article got into racial issues that add layers of complexity to the author's argument (I can see some of her points--since it's a Temptations tribute, but disagree with others). Link to the article here.

But what do you think. Do you think that audience members singing along at a show is okay on a case by case basis? Do you think that it's okay in general? Or should people completely refrain from singing and let the actors on stage do the performing unless they indicate it's time for a singalong? Are jukebox musicals different from more standard plot-driven musicals? What do actors performing on stage think? I put my thoughts in the responses.

Updated On: 5/16/19 at 11:14 AM
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I really think it's case-by-case and I also really think that (white) theatergoers love gatekeeping, whether they realize it/admit it or not.
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NO. NO. NO. NO. NO. People pay $170 to hear Broadway actors sing, not you or your friends in the audience. I don't care what the show is. Unless the actors specifically invite the audience to sing along, it's their show, not yours. Be respectful of the 1000 other people in the audience trying to see the show.
romain2
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My answer: yes, I could see where singing along to Temptations or Cher songs might be fun.

However, I lean towards no, not appropriate. People singing steals focus from the actors on stage. And it's a huge no-no for shows that aren't jukebox musicals. 

I was just at West Side Story, the Lyric Opera's production in Chicago. And of course I get the three women behind me who couldn't wait for Somewhere. As soon as the song started one said "oh here it comes here it comes" and she started singing along in a gargling, raspy, unpleasant voice, . Everyone in my row shot her looks. She defiantly sang even louder but then her friends did say "shhh" to her and she stopped.

We got it. You know Somewhere. You love Somewhere. You have seen West Side Story several times.

But all audience members should operate under the assumption that even a much beloved and performed song like Somewhere is being heard for the first time by someone near by. That this is someone else's first time watching this show or experiencing this song sung by this particular performer in this particular production. Let others around you become lost in the experience. Your singing takes others out of the experience, steals focus, and becomes about YOU and no longer about the hard work being done on stage. You have stolen that experience from your fellow audience members.

So I'm leaning towards shut the heck up. At all shows. Unless the performers are saying "okay everyone let's sing along" like in Hedwig and the Angry Inch's Wig in a Box for example.

 

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highlander0704
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No, I pay $150+ to hear the actors on stage sing, not the people in the audience.  I get WHY people may be moved to sing but I don't like it.  It's distracting regardless of the show or the audience demographic.  I'm not white.  I don't ever tell the person not to sing though because I don't like causing an even bigger distraction and I just pray someone else will say something or the usher will. I hated it happening during Motown, Shrek, Frozen and Mamma Mia.  Knowing people are probably going to be singing along and distracting me from the show is why I am deterred from seeing Ain't Too Proud, even though I really love the work of some of the cast members.

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Absolutely not. If you want to sing along, listen to your iTunes at home.

The exception, of course, is the megamix or whatever at the end of some of these jukebox shows where the audience is encouraged to participate.

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romain2
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highlander wrote: "I don't ever tell the person not to sing though because I don't like causing an even bigger distraction and I just pray someone else will say something or the usher will."

I'm that way too. However, I had a strange experience (years ago) at the Lincoln Center when even an usher or house manager wouldn't help. I was in the front row mezzanine and the professorial guy next to me took off his shoes, put his feet up, and not only sang along but also moved his feet to the beat, conducting if you will. I mentioned it to the staff at intermission and they shrugged and said "audience members today, what can you do?" When I mentioned the wires and lights up there they were like "oh yeah, that's right too." They thought I was referring to the teen girls who were doing the same thing and yelled at them. Luckily the man's wife saw this and told her husband to bring his feet down. I didn't say anything to the guy because I feared a scene. But it was strange how reluctant the staff were during intermission to help.

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Nope.

And I don't agree with the concept of it being okay at "jukebox musicals" because these are songs people know.

If I grew up in a house where cast recordings were played more often than the radio, then I'm going to be more familiar with songs from My Fair Lady than from The Temptations. So does that mean it's okay for me to sing along at My Fair Lady just like the people who want to sing along at Ain't Too Proud? Because that's the music I grew up.

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Interesting article. Thanks jawjuhh!

romain2
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Eliza2 wrote: "If I grew up in a house where cast recordings were played more often than the radio, then I'm going to be more familiar with songs from My Fair Lady than from The Temptations. So does that mean it's okay for me to sing along at My Fair Lady just like the people who want to sing along at Ain't Too Proud? Because that's the music I grew up."

That's an excellent point! Not to repeat myself but I do think people need to go into musicals and act as if these songs were being performed for the very first time that night. Exist in the present moment, not in a state of nostalgia. I understand the article shared by jawjuhh that audience participation can reflect an audience member being lost in a moment or being swept up in emotion, sort of an involuntary reflex. Like when I saw the play Fences and people were shouting things at the lead characters when they were arguing. That can seem oddly appropriate. But there's just something about coming up to a key musical number and wanting to get swept away by a performer's powerful voice only to have the moment ruined by someone who cannot freaking sing belting in your ear behind you.

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Singing along is never appropriate. I saw Chitty Chitty Bang Years ago and it was ruined by children in back of me singing every word.

Loud reactions (as is stated in the tdf article) to what is happening on stage is appropriate if they are natural. I don't think cat calling is appropriate or comments toward the stage when the 4th wall isn't broken. Definitely a fine line and there is a tone of cultural stuff that comes into play but that's where I would draw it.

Great article though!

 

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It is NOT okay to sing along, I didn't pay good money to hear you sing. I paid to see AND HEAR the paid actors. STFU OR GTFO.
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Its not okay.  During ANY portion of the show.  

I still remember vividly seeing MAMMA MIA! shortly after it opened on Broadway (at the Winter Garden Theatre).  A woman behind me started singing "I Had a Dream" as soon as the song started at the start of the show.  I turned around and gave her a look.  She continued and in a LOUD voice I said "do you mind?!  I CAN HEAR YOU!".  Thankfully, that shut her up instantly and she never continued.  There was no way in Hell was I going to let this woman ruin the show for me and I knew if I didn't say something immediately she would continue throughout the show.

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LizzieCurry said: "I really think it's case-by-case and I also really think that (white) theatergoers love gatekeeping, whether they realize it/admit it or not."

lol Very that!

I agree with other people here - It depends. I say only during Jukebox musicals. if it's a high energy  number that is purposely there to invoke nostalgia then I say go for it. Have fun...but don't get loud or too crazy. 

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Updated On: 5/16/19 at 12:49 PM
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It's arguably more allowable at jukebox musicals, because they're basically just gussied-up cover-band concerts, but it still kinda drives me nuts having to listen to someone in the audience botching a song. At best it's like good audience participation, which is great! At worst it's physically grating, like listening to someone eat pasta with their mouth open, especially if they're doing that thing where they're half-whispering and humming through the words they don't know.

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This relates to a current controversy with regards to Hadestown and the song "our Lady of the underground". Hermes who, not to be a spoiler, takes on the persona of a New Orleans Mardi gras barker, has a line (a question in a song) that begs for an answer (call and response). The argument is about whether he's just speaking to the other people on stage, who respond to him, or to the audience.

Confusing the issue is that, as the show starts:

 
Click Here To Toggle Spoiler Content

Hermes asks the cast "arright?", then after getting an answer very clearly turns to the audience with the same question and clearly expect an answer for that one encouraging participation early


 

Some people have taken offence when shushed, and suggested that the producers should put a note in the Playbill that people should should be allowed to respond in "our Lady of the underground". I tend to be of the opinion that this is a persona that Hermes is taking on, and absent an explicit note from the production that you can sing along, the audience should assume that the question Hermes gives is not intended for them. I do wish that producers would actually make a statement one way or the other

Updated On: 5/16/19 at 01:02 PM
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Broadway's an Equity house, and your mother isn't on the payroll! So is it okay for audience members to sing along during musicals? It's not gatekeeping or a racial issue: it's just rude. This is a narrative story utilizing the songs, not a concert or a cover band. While there might be a little more leeway in a jukebox musical (for example, during the curtain call or a huge group number), it's still rude and disruptive to the other patrons attending the show. You can have a great time without singing along. Shared experiences can be enjoyed silently.
 

I do wish the writer of the article had been fact-checked:

-- Refers to Hamilton cast album as a "soundtrack" (which indicates she's unfamiliar with theatre)

-- "during that early portion of the run, only high profile folks could get tickets." Totally incorrect; I think we all know many low-profile (and lower-income) people who saw it in previews, including through TDF and other discount sites. Its 2nd, 3rd, and 4th weeks of previews had average ticket prices of under $100 (low by Broadway standards), and it didn't hit over 95% of its gross potential until the 8th week of the run. Even tonight, there are tix available.

-- "Now some might say we’ve entered a Broadway theater so we have to respect those norms" –– yes, that's exactly what happens when you see a play, or dine in a restaurant, or attend any other type of paid event! You wouldn't try to to cook alongside the chef in a restaurant, or tell a bus driver how to drive.

-- "she sang and pumped her arms to the beat during the second half of the show." Oy.


I will also add that if the creative team of the musical had intended for audiences to sing along as part of the show, something would have been incorporated into the libretto specifying that. (Probably as simple as an actor yelling "EVERYBODY!"So is it okay for audience members to sing along during musicals?

Updated On: 5/16/19 at 01:29 PM
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Unless the entire cast is looking at everyone in the audience asking them to sing, then no.  That article was stupid and poorly written anyways.  

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I am sitting here with my jaw on the ground that there are answers here other than ABSOLUTELY NOT.

So... absolutely not. Not in a jukebox musical, not in a classic musical, not ever. Ever! How is this even a conversation?!?! People paid money to see the talented actors on stage, period.

The *only* time when it's acceptable is when it's specifically called for by the show, like "No Time At All" in Pippin. 

Otherwise, I think this is easily the rudest of all rude audience behaviors. Appalling that anyone would think this is ok. 

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Your home is where you can do what you bloody well like--singalong eat, what you want, put your feet where you want and go to the loo as often as your bladder demands AND you have a remote to control everything.

 

The theatre is a place where you take your seat and respond through silence, laughter and applause.

The 'me' generation is now in full force with the unfortunate necessity of the minority trying to maintain a semblance of some sort of order in whatever situation.

Television is in total control in creating behaviour on all levels and unfortunately those who know how to behave adjust themselves to the varying situations around them. Thoughtless individuals break everything down to ME.

NO----you CANNOT singalong unless asked to.

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NO (except for curtain calls/if the show or performers invite participation) You can sing along to your records at home. I did not pay Broadway prices to hear anyone but the performers sing. 

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I will join the chorus of No's here, for all of the same reasons (You're not paying money to listen to your seat neighbors sing songs). IMO, not only is it not okay, but I think it's actively distracted/degraded my opinion of some shows because of people sitting near me who insisted on singing along to many of the songs, Ain't Too Proud was the worst offender, but but I experienced the same thing at the Cher Show and Beautiful as well.
Updated On: 5/16/19 at 04:22 PM
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romain2 said: "We got it. You know Somewhere. You love Somewhere. You have seen West Side Story several times."

This. What's annoying is that it often seems like someone just wants to show that they know the song. Yeah, I knew all the lyrics to Once on this Island. I still didn't sing along. I don't see a racial divide. Older white audience members are very much guilty of this too with classic musicals like Hello Dolly or any show or concert with music from like 1950-1970. 

I have levels though. If someone is mouthing the words or bouncing a little in their seat or is at least quiet, I can mostly deal with it. Especially if I feel like I'm not the intended audience like it's a show for children or people with a different cultural experience. But that goes along with deciding whether someone is genuinely moved or just feels entitled to ruin the experience for everyone else.