In the title song of the 1970 Broadway musical Applause, based on the same source material as the movie All About Eve, a character who is a Broadway dancer describes the titular sound as “the sound that says love.” This gives rise to a show-stopping, pre-A Chorus Line meta-production number in which a group of scuffling young performers perform a pastiche of multiple Broadway hits, all the while singing about the fact that they put up with the unpleasantness that goes with being a “Broadway gypsy,” because that sound makes them forget everything else. (The video, which appears to be a home tape made of a 1973 television broadcast, is low quality, but a pretty fascinating historical document. And I couldn’t find lyric sheets, my apologies.)
When Megan goes to see this show in 1970, I wonder if she’ll love it, or hate it. Maybe it depends on how her career is going. In other words, does she actually want to make art, even if only two people ever witness it during her lifetime, or is it (as I suspect) the roar of the crowd, the feeling of being chosen out of thousands, that she really aches for, regardless of what it’s for?
If you are the kind of person who must have applause, there’s really no substitute for getting it. Having ten people applaud you in the conference room for your Heinz campaign isn’t going to cut it; you need that thunderous standing ovation. Having a husband and friends who love you is great, but you need those roses thrown at you from the crowd, or you feel empty inside, like your life hasn’t even started yet. Maybe Megan, when she took the job as the SCDP receptionist, didn’t want to feel that way anymore, didn’t want her happiness to be contingent on whether she’d be stopped for autographs after work or not, knew what the odds were against her and tried to make herself not want it. But if that’s a true need of yours, it will raise its head, no matter how hard you try to hold it down.
Don, on the other hand, would find it to be a horrible burden to have what Megan yearns for, to have people thrusting autograph books in his face every day. He likes applause, sure — who doesn’t? But like most people, he wants to be able to turn it off after a few minutes. When you are a star, there is no turning it off; your audience doesn’t just love you, they crave you, the same way you crave hearing all their hands clapping hard and fast, and they want to eat you up. Which is, of course, the dark side of craving applause and actually getting it. Maybe those semi-anonymous Broadway dancers have the best of both worlds: they get the cheering and stomping, and they also get to walk to the store without being pestered. And since Megan doesn’t really need money — the lack of which seems to be these dancers’ main complaint — maybe she’d enjoy that kind of a life. But without the intensive dance training those dancers have received since they were little kids, that’s probably not a door that’s open to her; for her, it’s fame or bust. Could Don ever really understand what that feels like, understand that his love alone is not a substitute for that magic sound, and that her need for it could lead to public exposure for him, too? He’d better, or he’s probably looking at divorce number three.