A New York woman is suing the Broadway musical Cats for $6 million, claiming she was assaulted and battered when the actor playing Rum Tum Tugger tugged on her a little too hard and gyrated his pelvis at her during a performance.
Playbill On-Line asked: What is your opinion of this incident? What do you feel are the responsibilities of the actors and the audience when a production breaks the fourth wall and performers pass among viewers, sometimes asking them to take part in a portion of the show?
Here are the results so far. Playbill thanks all those who took the time to write:
Paul Micsan (PDSpelvin@aol.com) Seattle:
I really have no words to express my feelings. . . but I DO have a song!
--To be sung to the tune of "Memory": Help me! Mister Usher, Oh help me!!!
I've been groped by a singing William Kennedy Smith
This is purrrrrr-fect! My Volvo needs it's motor replaced
Off to Wapner, I-go forthwith
Rum Tum, get a jellicle lawyer
I'm sure Garfield could help you
He takes fees in catnip
I'm so sorry. . . my temp job doesn't pay very much
Look at my dress. . . here's a rip!
Bills stack up. . .I really need a new refrigerator
Vinyl siding. . .A mauve bedroom suite
A purse of alligator!
(and now for the exciting musical climax)
Tuggie, your gyrations are naughty
You would never see Morris work his pelvis like that
Since you touched me, you'll fork over six million, my dear
Look! It's Johnnie Cochran Cat!!! (2/5/97)
From Sharon (AdaraRose@aol.com) Los Angeles:
I just can't let the whole debate about whether it is ok to break the fourth wall go on without SOMEBODY mentioning "Fool Moon"--and since nobody else has, I'll gladly be the one to do it.
At one point in the show, David Shiner does a bit where he crawls over everyone in an entire row of seats (in order to get to "his" seat). The first time I saw the show, I was seated at the far end of the row in question, and was a little concerned at the prospect of being crawled upon, because I'd had a pretty bad sunburn and didn't really want anyone touching me at that point. As he approached, I was trying to think of a polite (yet effective) way to whisper to him something along the lines of "Could you be so kind as to not touch me?" I didn't have to. When it was my turn to get crawled over, he reached out to put his hand on my shoulder, and I flinched. Without missing a beat, he put his hand on the seatback instead, and managed to crawl OVER me without pressing down ON me. Comedy safely completed--audience member unharmed. (No suit filed.)
I saw the show several times, and each time I was impressed at the consideration Bill Irwin and David Shiner showed for the audience members they involved in their routines--knowing things like which woman they got onstage absolutely would NOT be kissed, and which ones they could wrangle a kiss out of, in good fun.
Point is, yes--a six million dollar suit DOES seem outrageous for what happened to this woman. All that an actor should be risking is failure of the performance, not a multi-million dollar judgment. BUT--whenever an actor interacts with an audience member, it is the actor's responsibility to properly read the audience member and react accordingly. If an actor can't tell the difference between, "giggle, giggle, please, no, stop, you're embarrassing me, giggle" and "Get your gyrating pelvis out of my face NOW," that actor has no business breaking the fourth wall. (2/5/97)
From Herb Simpson, Geneseo, NY:
1-CATS has jumped too many unsuspecting audiences already. Put them out.
2-I dislike exhortations toward audience involvement: the woman isn't entitled to damages (except for entrapment in an overhyped show), but she might be entitled to salary if the actors are going to make her provide part of the entertainment she was paying to watch.
3-A Broadway musical is not a petting zoo. Try responding aggressively: if a "cat" jumps on you, gyrating, grope him. (2/5/07)
What a small world this is. I actually know the lawyer who is handling the case for the woman involved! He's a close friend of my best friend's father. Although that doesn't have anything to do with my opinion of the case, I just think it's cool that I know someone whose involved in a major controversy.
On a more serious note, I think it is absolutely ridiculous to sue for $6 million dollars simply because the character touched and offended he. For the record, I am not fond of the show, however, I have seen the production. I was under the impression that if you bought seats in a certain area it was practically guaranteed that you would be involved in the show. Although I was not present at the production during these events, I have to say that one of the best aspects of theater is being able to get the audience involved. As an actress, it's almost scary to think that pulling some one out of the audience to sing the "Name Game" might cause me to have a million dollar lawsuit on my back. I'm sorry that the woman was offended by these actions, but let's get real - six million dollars is a bit much.
I guess we can classify this case under the other classic lawsuits of the 90's. What is our world coming to? (2/5/97)
From Petula, NYC:
I think that the lawsuit is absolutely absurd!!!!
Millions of people have seen Cats since it opened, and this woman is the first who was so offended by the audience interaction? Usually, this is a high point of the show!!! Furthermore, the Rum Tum Tugger consistently acts like this, its all a part of the character. Its not like he was flirting only with this specific woman. I do think actors should be sensitive to the audience, but in this case it seems the woman was overly sensitive and definitely overreacted. I read that the actor is no longer with the show, which is a shame and its too bad that one woman should disrupt this actor's life and the show. (2/5/97)
From Ben Cote (email@example.com), Saco, ME:
The women in behind the suit it a fool. What did she think she was watching, some passive film or television? One of the most notable parts of theatre is the "live action." If this women wanted to sit passively she should have rented from Blockbuster. It is commonly known that show Cats involves audience participation... Anyone who is unaware of the cats off stage antics has his or her head in a closet.
When I saw a regional production of hair a awhile back. One of the actors strutted up to me and said "I love you man", He then proceeded to blow a kiss at me. I did not get upset, its just part of the show. The same applies to the Cats suit... the gyrating pelvis, is part of the show. If gyrating pelvises were eliminated from all theatre.... we would be left with Chekhov and Beckett....and evil and depression thought.
From a legal babble standpoint. What damage did this women suffered. I doubt that any property was damaged, I have not heard of any physical harm. As I understand the law, assault and battery requires the offender to intend to hurt the victim... did Rum Tum Tugger intended to hurt the women, doubtful.
This women basically wants money. Who has money? Andrew Lloyd Webber and friends. She found an opportunity to make a few bucks buy suing a large source of money.... I hope the case gets thrown out of court and the women is forced to pay legal fees. (2/5/97)
From FanDancr (FanDancr@aol.com), Winston-Salem, NC:
This is just another in what appears to be an epidemic of ridiculous lawsuits! I saw the tour company of "Cats" in Greensboro, NC in 1989 (?) from the second row. . .the "cats" moving through the audience was, by far, my favorite part of the show! Theater-goers should always be aware of the possibility of that 4th wall coming down. If they are uncomfortable with that, then they should choose seats farther from the stage where it is less likely that their "privacy" will be invaded by a stray "cat"! (2/4/97)
From james f pelegano:
Do you realize how difficult it is to win the lottery. Here is a golden opportunity to go after someone with deep pockets and set yourself up for the rest of your life. Why not sue? Oh, sure, it would be easier to collect if she had tripped going up the aisle of the Winter Garden or had gotten hit on the head with a piece of scenery, but hey, you have got to work with what you've got. (2/5/97)
A Wolf in CATS clothing? Not on your life.
Someone needs to clip the claws on the woman trying to sue the show CATS because the Rum Tum Tugger tried to get her into the act. Of COURSE he gyrates his pelvis... the "jacket", the pussycats swooning, the vocal style: it's in part an Elvis parody.
OK, so I wasn't in the audience that night, so maybe Tugger did tug her a little too hard in the rambunctionus spirit of his character. If that's true, maybe he needs to lighten hi grip a little. One idea in this slap-you-with-a lawsuit-if-I-don't-like-your-face world is to put a sign in the house at every show where the actors do break the fourth wall... "Warning: the entire interior of this theatre, including your seat, is part of the stage. Live with it."
I have seen four different productions of CATS. My favorite moment was in London, where I sat right at the edge of the stage. During intermission, the siamese cat stalked my seatmate's ice cream cup. Her face was practically in the cup by the time he noticed her. He was quite startled, but laughed along with everyone else watching. Then he took the wooden spoon, dug out a small chunk, and offered it to her; of course she quickly sniffed it, then snapped it up. That kind of unexpected improvisation truly makes the show come alive. What would happen to shows like Edwin Drood, Godspell, or 5 Guys Named Moe if actors were limited to the stage, unable to touch and interact with the audience? Tell the woman to find a reliable source of income, instead of suing productions that break the boundaries. (2/4/97)
From Mike, Baltimore, MD:
I am most uncomfortable when actors break through the "fourth wall."
As an audience member, I feel like I lose the illusion of seeing "real life" on the stage and it becomes "fake" to me. I have performed in many community theater productions also, so I have some perspective from both sides of the fourth wall. As an actor, I don't like interacting with the audience either.
In any case, I don't feel that an actor should *ever* touch a member of the audience, any more than one would go up to a stranger on the street and touch them. Six million is ridiculous, of course, but I think the actor was wrong to lay hands on her at all. (2/3/97)
I was quite upset to hear about the suit you mentioned . While I didn't see what happened I will offer this: we saw CATS with David Hibbard as Rum Tum Tugger . In that performance he selected my nine year old daughter to grt up and dance with him in the scene where he comes out into the audience.
She was a bit hesitant and shy, but with a tug from him and some encouragement from us, she got up and danced with him. It was one of the highlights of her entire life..and was the sort of experience we had hoped might happen when we chose that show and picked seats accordingly. It reminded me of a nine year old version of the Springsteen "Dancing in the Dark" video where he picks a woman from the audience to dance with him..what a thrill. I wrote to David Hibbard who sent me a publicity shot of him as Rum Tum which is on the wall of my daughter's bedroom. If the CATS management would like my help, I would be happy to testify that it was exactly this sort of experience that we were looking for when we went to see the show and sat that close to the stage..it was no secret that the cast came out and interacted.
I hope a nonsense suit by an unemployed office worker and a "you don't pay till we win" contingency attorney doesn't turn broadway into a sterile "keep hands and feet inside the car" safe environment. (2/4/97)
Good for the lady who's suing Cats... maybe they'll close it so it won't ruin the record of Chorus Line...it's a really bad show anyway. (2/4/97)
From Christopher P. Nicholson, Washington DC:
Regarding Rum Tum Tugger's $6 million pelvic thrust, most people go to a Broadway show to have a good time, but then there are exceptions. Cats has been around for 15 years, it's not as if Ms. Amato didn't know what to expect. It's the actor's responsibility to read body language well enough to know when to move on, but is failure to do this assault and battery? If so, Grandma Sylvia's Funeral and Tony and Tina's Wedding better retain legal counsel now. The sad part is that the Cats producers will likely settle quickly rather than draw out their legal bills. But they should be forewarned that if they change the show and rebuild the fourth wall because of this lawsuit, they can expect Ms. Amato to come back asking for $40 million and 16% of the gross as compensation for her "major contributions". (2/4/97)
CATS has been around for so many years, surely she must have been aware that there is some audience interaction. That's half the fun -- she should be thrilled to have been allowed to participate with one of the best feline characters in the show!
As for the responsibility of the actors in any production, if their roles call for audience interaction, then that's what they do. They don't write the script themselves. It's usually pretty obvious when an audience member does NOT wish to participate, but, come on--if you sit in the front rows, you can possibly expect some interaction.
I've seen CATS 5 times and enjoyed it each time. The audience interaction was WONDERFUL and I would have given alot to have gotten that close to Rum Tum Tugger. Frankly, I think this woman needs to get a life! (2/4/97)
From mrsmusic, LaFayette, GA:
This suit is absolutely ridiculous! She shouldn't have sat in an aisle seat if she didn't want to "take part". Even at that, the sum she wants is ludicrous. How on earth could his touching her and "gyrating his pelvis" traumatize her that much? Did she ever sue Elvis? Does she regularly sue people who perform on MTV? They are much more lewd and overt about their actions than this actor was. (2/3/97)
From Alexis, Great Neck, NY:
Well, if you don't like the heat...as the saying goes.
"Cats" has been running too long for anyone attending not to know that its performers break the fourth wall. This lady should have considered her selection of seat.
Short of that...well, come on, really...It's not as if he rubbed against her legs. (2/3/97)
From Shawn W. Lanz (Swlanz@aol.com):
On one hand, I feel this is ridiculous. I mean, the woman was not harmed and it is impossible that it was some kind of personal attack - there is no way that actor could have known and specified any one particular person in that enormous audience.
One the other hand, the actor playing Rum Tum Tugger needs to exercise some level of restraint. I realize that this type of thing is very in character for him, but people do not go to the theatre to be IN the show; they go to watch it. And whenever a show is able to incorporate some audience participation, it can only heighten the experience. As long as those doing the interaction are responsible and professional. Whay would you try to embarass and offend the people who are, in effect, paying you. This is not good performance etiquette; this is not good business ethic. This is just not good ethic at all.
So, I'm sure no harm was meant, and in my opinion no harm was done per se -- certainly not $6 million worth. I believe there should be a public apology, then let's remind the actors what they are there for and let's forget about it. (2/4/97)
Denise Reich, New York City:
I have seen David Hibbard as the Rum Tum Tugger several times, and have never witnessed any behavior even slightly resembling the woman's claim. David always had a reasonably accurate sense of who might want to dance, and was sensitive enough to leave the less-than-eager folks alone. Also, what the woman was suggesting (ie, his jumping onto the armrests) would be physically impossible in the winter Garden theatre (I'm a small, 5'0" dancer with gymnastics training and I couldn't do it!).
I have also had the pleasure of meeting David a few times, and always found him outgoing, friendly and exceedingly cordial to everyone. In no case have I ever seen or heard of him engaging in any sort of lewd behavior. He is a nice individual and a gifted performer, and does not deserve this suit.
It's a shame that the woman did not enjoy the show, but suing for twelve million dollars over a DANCE is insane. I take particular offense because I have personally REALLY been attacked and injured in the city by truly dangerous individuals, and have not been able to file any charges. It is, in part, because of ludicrous suits such as this one that real cases can't successfully enter the system.
Bottom line? The woman saw an easy buck and a way to make some money and gain a little publicity (I'm sure, if it isn't thrown out, RUG will settle out of court to avoid embarassment). The dance has been in the show since the original RTT, Terrence Mann, "invented" it in 1982-83. I've never heard any other complaints about it. (2/4/97)
I hope the actor playing the part is okay. I hope the case gets thrown out of court. Everyone I have spoken with,who has seen CATS agrees. This is ridiculous. (2/3/97)
From Dawn in Los Angeles:
Get a life, for heaven's sake! Perhaps she deserves the price of her ticket back, if she hated this theatrical experience so vehemently. Perhaps Tugger even owes her an apology for having the poor taste to select such a humorless soul as the object of his (shifting) affections. But to even imagine that this woman's experience is worth $6 million! It is amazing to me that any court would even allow this suit to be filed! There are people who have died under the most horrible of negligent circumstances whose estates received far less, if anything! What a waste of time.
It angers me that some people appear to be so ignorant/selfish/greedy/opportunistic/(you get the idea). But this is a waste of my energy. I guess people are just this way, these days. That's sad. That said, I certainly won't be wasting any more time on this issue. (2/3/97)