It's A Hard Knock Life: What happens when Lynne casts too many orphans
It was production week at the Lyceum Theater in Horton Plaza. The usher opened the house doors and began showing theater-goers to their seats, while actors and actresses hurried to make last minute adjustments to their makeup and costumes. All was hustle and bustle, an excited murmur pervading the tense atmosphere of the backstage workers. But all was hushed as swiftly as if a transvestite had just pranced by in outlandish dress. The overture had begun, signaling the show's commencement.
Then, as suddenly as the music had started, it was gone, a crackling voice from the speakers above taking its place. "Ladies and gentlemen, as a matter of safety, we'd like you all to turn to page three of your playbill and locate the song 'It's a Hard Knock Life'." The sound of pages ruffling filled the air. "At that time, we'd like to ask you to please evacuate the theater and watch the number from some special windows we have provided for the show."
Suddenly, the house wasn't so placated anymore. "What did he mean, evacuate?"..."What cheap people!"..."I didn't pay for this!"
The voice urged once more, "Please, follow our rules. Trust me, it's for your own good." With that, the overture began again and the audience settled uneasily into their plush seats.
The show opened and ran smoothly without mishap, right up until the part everyone had been dreading the most: "It's a Hard Knock Life." And boy, was it ever. As the twenty-three orphans took their positions onstage, tap shoes clicking on the linoleum, the intercom voice reminded everyone once again to please vacate their seats. Some of the snottier parents decided to stay; they just had to see their baby's big moment up close. The rest begrudgingly filed out.
The song at first appeared normal, nothing out of place. Parents tapped their feet and huffed impatiently, "Now just when is that man on the intercom going to allow us back in?" But they soon discovered why arrangements were what they were.
Two small orphans slowly peeled back the curtains at the left and right of the stage. Beckoning to an unseen someone behind them, they walked onstage and joined the dancers. At once, a flood of orphans exploded out of the curtains from either side, spilling over the sides of the stage and into the audience. The orphans, a living, breathing solid mass of pure giggly girl, stormed the aisles and every row of seats in the space of about two seconds. Any remaining parents were knocked over and instantly killed in the oncoming barrage of children. Those were the lucky ones, too. A few others were carried away in the tide until they slammed into the wall, exploding with the force of an M-80. The audience members gaped, horrified, through the special bomb-proof windows as still more continued to pour in.
Now, I think it's time to backtrack a little and explain this strange phenomenon. The director of the show, Lynne Broyles, had put out an ad in the paper several months before auditions for Broadway Bound Youth Theatre's production of Annie:
Wanted, small girls between the ages of 4 and 12 to play the orphans in Annie. All who audition will be admitted.
By the time auditions rolled around, Lynne had over 100,000 little bright-eyed children lined up for the role, regardless of gender. And once the nightmare of auditioning was over, Lynne, always a woman of her word, sent out emails to each and every child promising them a spot in the show.
Fast forward to production week, with 100,000 little costumed kids waiting behind the theater for their big entrance. The theater just wasn't big enough for such a cast. Lynne finally threw up her hands and screamed, "Let them do what they want!"
So, as Lynne relaxed backstage with icepak on her forehead to counteract the migraine, more and more tap-dancing brats spilled onto the stage. At this point, the children had begun to climb on top of each other to breathe any last bit of fresh air left. The noise from hundreds of little shoes tapping and hundreds of shrill voices belting out the lyrics to the song was deafening.
Still they came, from the same two entrances, popping out of the curtains like champagne out of a bottle with the cork freshly removed. Kids were scuttling up the walls in a spider-like manner to claim some free space. They glanced back at the horrified parents behind the Plexiglas and grinned, still singing.
Most audience members had begun to back away from the windows, sensing danger. One poor soul chanced an entrance into the house, obliviously muttering the words, "I wonder if the number is over yet?" He pulled open the door and was slammed backwards into the wall by a rocketing column of children that shot out in an instant. The musical horde made a crater in the wall with the force of impact, and it was later confirmed that the man they had hit was to die from a severe concussion and third-degree burns.
Meanwhile, the Plexiglas safety windows were beginning to buckle under the pressure of the nightmarish orphans squashed against them. Cracks appeared, grew wider, and deepened, prompting the audience members to flee. Finally, a roar of shattered glass filled the air as the windows disintegrated and singing children cascaded out of the gaping holes.
Still, they kept coming. The roof of the theater started to crumble under the pressure of the still cheerful children pressing against the highest reaches of the once indestructible structure. Still more welled out of the doorways and up the stairs to the mall above, overtaking shoppers in a steady trickle. They began to entwine and created a tower of children, blocking out the sun in their quest for space.
By this time, the audience had hopped into their cars and screeched away to the nearby hills to watch the carnage from afar. From their lofty perspective, they could see the mall and the buildings surrounding it shake with the magnitude of the tappers' feet. Dust rose in clouds around the city, the structures bouncing up and down in time to the music like characters out of an old '40's cartoon. They watched as the Friday cast screamed out the notes of the song, clapping and tapping until they reached the finale. On the last note, the BOOM of a thousand feet stomping together rent metal in the next town 30 miles away.
Then suddenly, miraculously, the actors were silent. The dust settled, and the audience knew it was time to return to the Lyceum. It had been four minutes since the fatal song began.
The damage to downtown San Diego was horrendous, putting the entire state of California in even more serious debt than before. The lesson? Never let 100,000 kids hyped up on sugar have free run of your theater.