Every Broadway actor (not to mention theatergoer) endures the modern-day scourge of mobile phones that go off in the middle of a solo and the distraction of Tinkerbell lights as people in the audience simply must check email and text during the performance. But few get the chance to bite back. On Saturday night, Lin-Manuel Miranda, author and star of Hamilton, the season’s hottest ticket, got some revolutionary revenge. And the object of his ire wasn’t just any old patron. It was Madge herself, Lady Madonna:
The rock icon was one of a long list of celebrities and other bold-face names pulling strings to see the hip-hop musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton at the Public Theater in New York’s East Village. Everyone wants to see it downtown before it closes on May 3 and prepares for the march to Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre, where it begins performances in the much larger space on July 13. This weekend alone saw First Lady Michelle Obama in the audience (she’d had a private preview years earlier, when In The Heights creator and star Miranda performed the opening number of his new show at the White House).
This is the season when cast members use the curtain call to raise money for the charity Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Miranda used his curtain speech to take a swipe at Madonna, noting the presence of “someone in the audience” who could afford to pay a lot for something he was auctioning off — someone who “did a lot of texting,” according to one account in the Daily News. But Miranda wasn’t done. A frequent (and always entertaining) Tweeter, he dashed off his ire to his 62,500 followers. Then, apparently, he thought twice about the post and pulled it.
That’s a shame, because the more people get called out on this issue, the sooner this infection of interrupted shows will be cured. And when imperious stars think nothing of their right to ignore the rules, it only reinforces the notion that it’s OK to ruin a show for those around you — not to mention disrespecting fellow artists. I was reminded of the time recently when my UK colleague Mark Shenton confronted no less a public figure than Bianca Jagger for taking flash photographs during a performance of Einstein On The Beach and then, in the Bizarro World of celebrity, found himself upbraided for interfering with the apparently Deity-granted right of stars to do as they please.
Of course, theater management could be doing more to stop this as well. The run earlier this season of the Hugh Jackman starrer The River had one ingenious improvement on the generally useless and increasingly dopey pre-show announcements urging theatergoers to power down their devices. At the start of every performance, an actual human being took to the stage of the Circle In The Square theater, held up her phone, exhorted everyone to take out theirs and, in a kind of community ritual, had everyone power down together. I can’t say it worked every time, but that was probably the only show I’ve attended all season that was blissfully ringtone-free.