At the Hadrian Hotel

At the Hadrian Hotel

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Smelling Fire in a Crowded Theater

I'm sure that many of you have heard the cautions about yelling "fire" in a crowded theater, but nobody talks about smelling fire in a crowded theater. At least nobody has until now....

On December 29, my wife and I took the boys into New York to see Monty Python's SPAMALOT at the Shubert Theater. The show was great, especially if you've seen the movie. However, the Friday matinee preformance that we attended ran a bit later than most.

About 15 minutes before the end of the first act, I started smelling smoke from my seat in the balcony. As time went on, the smell got stronger. After about 10 minutes (during the "Trojan Rabbit" scene), the director walked out on stage and the actors stopped performing. Some people in the audience thought that this might be part of the show (it was Monty Python, after all), but that was not the case. Shortly after the director came out, a woman on the public address system asked the actors to leave the stage. The actors and the director did so, and a moment later the woman asked the audience to leave the theater by the nearest exit. They managed to clear a packed house in about 3 minutes. That was pretty impressive!

As we made our way out to the street, we overheard some workers talking about what happened. Apparently, somebody had dropped a lit cigarette into a ventilation grate where it caught some debris on fire. That small fire was near the house ventilation intake, so the smell of burning paper was able to fill the theater. The worker talking about the source of the fire said that it was out, but they don't take chances about that in New York City.

We were outside for only about 5 minutes before the first fire truck arrived. Pretty much every camera phone came out to take pictures. A few minutes later, the second fire truck arrived. Then the third. Then the fourth. Then the fifth! I told you that they don't take chances.

All in all, we were outside the theater for about 25 minutes. We got the "all clear" from the staff and returned to our seats. A man came onto the public address system and announced that they would "rewind" the play a few minutes, finish the first act, and then have a 15 minutes intermission. At that, the audience groaned, until he told us that drinks would be free, at which we cheered (big surprise, right?). The show resumed in the middle of the Trojan Rabbit scene. We were then treated to one of three ad-libs they threw into the show. When the three frenchmen poked their heads around the castle door, one of them said to the others (in a really bad French accent), "How many times have I told you not to cook liver in zee dressing room?" The audience (and the other actors) chuckled.

The second ad-lib came in Arthur's song at the end of the first act. Arthur sang to us: "Have some drinks, they're for free, We'll be back for act three!" (Yes, Patsy then corrected him with "Two, sir.") I subsequently learned that the only change to the song was that normally the "they're for free" line is a suggestion to take care of a common bodily function. I suppose I should have expected that.

The final ad-lib (at least I think it was an ad-lib) took place during second the "Knights of Ni" scene. At one point, the Knights of Ni broke into a little dance and chanted "The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire, We don't need no water let the mother-WHOOP burn." I suspect that this doesn't normally appear in the show. :-)

Even with 25 minute break in the show, I believe that a good time was had by all. If you're a Monty Python fan, go to see this show. Just try to avoid smelling fire in a crowded theater.

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