- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

NEW YORK — Patti LuPone couldn’t believe her ears.

“There was this woman in the first row, eating out of a paper bag, so loudly that even people around her were trying to get her to stop,” an appalled Miss LuPone said of an incident that happened during her Broadway run in the musical “Sweeney Todd.”

Another actor on stage used her prop — a flute — to nudge the woman to stop eating, reaching into the audience with the instrument and pushing down on the woman’s bag of snacks, Miss LuPone said.

“But the woman kept eating whatever it was — things that came out in little balls.”

Such encounters have become increasingly common in theaters up and down Broadway, where the sound of music is sometimes mixed with a symphony of snacking.

More Broadway theaters are allowing people to bring drinks, candy, chips and even popcorn to their seats as they try to boost their bottom lines.

And the bottom line is — the bottom line. Concession sales at the Hilton Theatre have more than doubled since refreshments were allowed into the shows about three years ago.

Meanwhile, to eat or not to eat is an issue that has divided Broadway.

The Shubert Organization, which operates 17 theaters on Broadway, does not permit food or drinks to be taken into performances.

The Nederlander Organization allows snacks into most of its shows, especially in performance spaces that are staging family fare such as “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Nederlander also allows people to bring in wine poured into spillproof cups.

Nederlander Vice President Jim Boese defended the organization’s selling of snacks.

“This is not an orgy of gorging; it’s just a recognition of reality.

“We’re trying to be responsive to consumers, and we’ve found that more and more parents and others are asking for certain kinds of snacks,” Mr. Boese said. “We’ve served Twizzlers forever. This is about creating a broader array of things that people can eat.”

Last year, the Nederlander added popcorn to its snack menu at the Neil Simon Theatre for the musical “Hairspray.”

“Producers felt this show was fun,” said Susan Lee, Nederlander’s head of marketing. “Popcorn in the theater sets an environment, and the concession became a part of the entertainment.”

She said Nederlander considers the nature of the show when deciding where snacks should be enjoyed.

For Eugene O’Neill’s quiet, brooding “A Moon for the Misbegotten” — opening in March at the Brooks Atkinson Theater — “snacks inside are not appropriate,” Miss Lee said. The ushers will ask theatergoers to refrain from taking in snacks, and signs will be posted to that effect.

Nederlander lobby signs also urge patrons to remove their noisy candy wrappers ahead of time.

But a theater cannot police what Miss Lee called “the changing etiquette.”

The spectacle of theatergoers loudly gobbling snacks, said playwright Paul Rudnick, does not reflect well on American audiences.

“It feeds into the caricature of Americans stuffing themselves at every opportunity,” he said. “I feel you should be allowed to bring in a flat-screen TV and a Scrabble game — if you’re in such desperate need of distraction.”

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