Something happens at the theater, we know this already--this is why we go. To laugh, cry, experience, all that shit--as a community. Way back when the Greeks starting yukking it up in big masks and dragging their tired old deus ex machina's to the party. (We still use those today, naturally: see any sitcom or movie, made...oh...basically ever.) This is not the big idea here.
What is the big idea here, is that when that magical thing that happens happens, it's impossible to predict, duplicate, fake or force, and that's why it's so rare. And interesting. And important. When I went to see Hairspray, Gypsy and Spamalot, all on Broadway, the room was decidedly alive with that nebulous thing that is what everybody calls "the magic of theater."
In Hairspray, that big baddd show about embracing your otherness, people were screaming and giving standing ovations in the middle of the show, just whenever their whims dictated. And Harvey Fierstein, as Edna Turnblad, chewed up the scenery in the most loveable, honest and beautiful way. Harvey is one of my heroes. John Waters said that the best thing about the fact that Hairspray had been turned into a musical was that in the future, when high schools all over the country put it on, "the fag and the fat girl will get the biggest parts."
In Gypsy, people began cheering as soon as the overture began--hooting and hollering like it was a basketball game. When Bernadette Peters came trodding down the aisle, screaming "Sing Out Louise!" you could hardly hear her for the excitement. When she sings that 11 0'clock number....wow. People in the audience kept saying "Not since Merman!" and stuff like that.
Spamalot was like a big family reunion, everyone in the audience knew the bits, and we laughed and laughed and laughed. The show tells five jokes when one will do--of every kind: visual jokes, physical comedy, puns, slapstick, witty banter, etc. I was like: "I smell Tony, yo."