The first show I ever saw with Broadway San Jose was their inaugural show, Spamalot. The management of the show was plagued with issues, including a delay of over half an hour to the start of the show because Will Call was such a mess. For this reason, I've avoided the company ever since. However, late last year one of their employees contacted me through Yelp – where I'd written a review describing the whole debacle – and offered me vouchers for a future show. So I ended up with two vouchers to Beauty and the Beast - awesome, right? I was touched that they wanted to to go such lengths to “clean up” their customer service record.
A few hours before the show yesterday, I went to the Broadway San Jose box office to redeem the vouchers. While there, I asked if I could buy another ticket for my fiance. I was told that I could, for the whopping price of $84. I asked if there were any cheaper seats; the woman behind the counter replied that they also had $51 seats, but if my fiance bought one of those he wouldn't be able to sit with us. “That sucks,” I thought, but Seanie said go ahead and buy the ticket, so I did. The woman handed me the tickets, and I immediately noticed that they were up in the balcony.
“That really sucks,” I thought, because of course if you're up in the balcony the actors become like ants on the stage. “But maybe it won't be so bad. Sometimes it's better to be up in the balcony because you can see the choreography better. Still, if these seats cost $84 then the $51 seats must be really bad.”
Fast forward to the show, where we've found our seats. They're horrible. Down on the stage, there's a ladder/staircase that the characters climb up and down to simulate the towers of the Beast's castle. From where I'm sitting, you can't see the top of the stairs, so every time an actor goes up they disappear from view. It's ridiculous - normally, a theatre company just doesn't sell the seats if the stage is partially obscured, or they sell them at a deep discount. Yes, I got my seat for free so I can't complain really, but my fiance paid full price and he can't see half the action either. I can't help but notice as I look around that we're surrounded by college students. It seems a bit odd, simply because $84 is a lot of money. I can't afford it; how can all these kids? The lady at the ticket office didn't mention a student discount. (I looked it up later: it turns out that two hours before the show, all ticket seats immediately drop to $29. That would have been nice to know!!!)
As the musical begins, I hear a crinkle-crinkling sound, but ignore it. But as the musical continues, the rustling of candy wrappers and the crunching of potato chips gets louder and louder. At times, especially during the second act, the noise even drowns out the music. That was infuriating – and extremely puzzling. I've been to the Center for the Performing Arts many times, for the ballet and for musicals, and I've never seen anyone eat in the theatre before. But people are bringing in open-glass cocktails after the intermission, so obviously that rule's not being enforced. What happened???
To top it off, right in the middle of the big climatic scene, when the Beast transforms into a human, a baby starts crying somewhere in the theatre. A baby? What the heck-?? First of all, who brings a baby to a Broadway show? Beauty and the Beast is a couple of hours long; your kid is gonna start screaming at some point. Second, Broadway San Jose's website explicitly states that children under the age of five will not be admitted to the theatre, so why is that kid in here? The ushers should have intervened! Needless to say, that kid's lungs ruined the poignancy of the musical's most intense moment.
I was pretty steamed when I got home, so I left a cranky comment on Broadway San Jose's Facebook page (previous experience leading me to believe that this was one place I could be sure they'd see my thoughts) and went to bed. The next day, there was an invitation to call and give them a chance to 'make it right'. Part of me wanted to laugh – the whole reason I was at Beauty and the Beast was so that the company could 'make it right' and they screwed that up pretty well, as far as I'm concerned. But I called, and I was offered vouchers to another show.
At this point, a small voice in my head was like, “Dude, what a great racket! You can keep seeing shows, keep making complaints, and maybe you'll never have to pay Broadway San Jose another cent!” But honestly, I'm not that interested in the rest of BSJ's season, and I'm especially not into watching another show with a partially-obscured stage that's totally drowned out by the noise of people chomping away like cows chewing cud. I mention this to the woman I'm on the phone with, and she tells me “We can't control what other patrons do.”
You can't control them? I CALL BULLSHIT. I attend a lot of live performances – San Jose Ballet, operas in San Jose and San Francisco, Theatreworks, San Jose Rep, and Oregon Shakesepeare Festival, to name a few - and none of those other groups have problems with their patrons drowning out the actors by eating during the performance. If it's a problem at Broadway San Jose, it's because the management isn't doing something right. Maybe they aren't publicizing theatre norms to their patrons, and people don't know that commonly, one doesn't eat in a theatre. Maybe the ushers aren't enforcing the rules and need to be retrained. Heck, maybe BSJ just needs to turn the bloody speakers up to eleven. But to claim that you can't do anything about it? That's just weak.