"Can anyone here play the drums? I mean someone good!
. Sometimes, a catastrophe occurs during the production of a creative work that forces it to a halt - the writer quits, the union goes on strike, or an actor gets injured or suffers critical existence failure.
In recorded works intended for later consumption, this can be remedied relatively easily - scenes can be rewritten or reshot, actors can be replaced, shooting can be put on hiatus.
However, in live entertainment, the show must go on at all costs - unlike with a movie or a TV show, a live performance has an audience of potentially tens of thousands
of people, who have all paid
to be there, and are rightfully expecting to get their money's worth. This forces the characters into crazy improvisations, costume changes, awkward stealth to avoid further disrupting the show and any number of desperate things to keep the show going.
Note that the full phrase is something like "the show must go on tonight" (i.e. whatever personal tragedy happens during the day, everyone must be in place and ready to perform when the curtain rises).
Compare Throw It In
. See also All Part of the Show
, Dead Line News
, Pushed in Front of the Audience
. Not to be confused with The Show Must Go Wrong
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Anime and Manga
- The Emperor's New Clothes: What's the Emperor to do when it's revealed his marvelous new clothes don't really exist and he's naked? Pretend not to have heard the complaint, hold himself up stiffer and straighter than ever, and continue with the procession, that's what.
- The Marx Brothers A Night At The Opera where the brothers throw an opera into total chaos and the theatre crew and police still bend over backwards to avoid disrupting the show themselves, even when things are bad enough that logically they might as well simply and openly march out on stage to grab the brothers since it would not make any difference.
- Galaxy Quest:
go out there. Alexander Dane:
I won't. And nothing you can say will make me. Jason Nesmith:
"The show must go on." Alexander Dane:
) Damn you. Damn you!
- In Moulin Rouge!, Satine is dying from tuberculosis and everyone's hopes and dreams are falling apart, but they still manage to stage "Spectacular! Spectacular!" Guess what The Song Before The Storm is?
- The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother: Sigerson Holmes and Professor Moriarty (and their minions) engage in a secret contest behind the scenes of an opera performance to get some important papers. Their shenanigans include dropping sleeping pills into the cups the actors are drinking from, firing guns and breaking into song: the actors try desperately to keep the opera going despite the interruptions.
- Lampshaded in Shakespeare in Love, apparently set before the phrase was popularised:
Henslowe: The show must... you know...
- And played straight when, after the Rose Theater is ordered shut down by the Master of the Revels, rival theater manager Richard Burbage freely allows Shakespeare's company the use of his theater for the premiere of Romeo and Juliet.
- A more tragic case in Stage Door; on opening night of her debut, Terry finds out Kay, an actress she was friends with, had her heart set on the part Terry was about to play, and when she didn't get the part, committed suicide. Upon hearing this, Terry is heartbroken and refuses to go on; Ann Luther, her acting coach, gives a variation of this speech to get Terry to perform.
- In Henry's Crime, Henry goes back on stage and continues his role as if nothing's wrong, immediately after getting shot in the leg. Justified because if he hadn't, it would have aroused suspicion.
- Cosmo invokes this trope for Don Lockwood in Singin' in the Rain before breaking into "Make 'Em Laugh".
Cosmo: "Come on now, snap out of it. You can't let a little thing like this get you down. Why, you're Don Lockwood, aren't you? And Don Lockwood's an actor, isn't he? Well, what's the first thing an actor learns? "The show must go on!" Come rain, come snow, come sleet, the show must go on!"
- Turning the archaic movie "The Dueling Cavalier" into a musical ("The Singing Cavalier") also qualifies for this trope.
- Meet the Feebles. More and more of the muppet-like variety show's cast and crew end up missing, incapacitated, or dead on the night of their live TV debut, but the show lurches on even when performers accidentally die on stage. By the end the director is reduced to performing a musical number that he was expressly forbidden ever to do, ever, under an circumstances by the producer.
- Rock Star: In the very beginning of the first song in his first concert with Steel Dragon, Chris Cole slips and falls down the stairs (they were tring to do a Grand Staircase Entrance). Despite a nasty head wound and possible concussion, Chris rallies and finishes the song and the concert.
- The name of a chapter in a The Berenstain Bears book in which Brother and Sister bear attempt to help a horseback riding teacher save her building by means of a fundraiser to pay the mortgage. In the chapter, the villains have been defeated and prevented from sabotaging the fundraiser in their bid to gain control of the building, but despite the problems they have, they still have to hold the event to get the necessary money.
- In Maskerade, this is the philosophy of the Ankh-Morpork Opera House, where a show cannot stop even if the lead singer is dead (they recruit another from the audience, or work the corpse via ventriloquism). When someone actually does stop a show (as it's Discworld) the resulting entropic shockwave physically flings Walter Plinge, a man truly in tune with opera, from his seated position.
- This is Rachel's motto in No More Dead Dogs, even as early back as kindergarten. At the end of the book she convinces everyone to remain performing the play with these words after the Old Shep dog is blown up with a cherry bomb.
- In the Rainbow Magic series, this happens in Paige the Christmas Play Fairy's book. Jack Frost interfering with a performance of Cinderella forces the girls to improvise.
Live Action TV
- Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury contracted AIDS and was in increasingly poor health through the last few years of his career. He kept recording though, as, well you know. The band lampshaded it with an absolute Tear Jerker of a song named, unsurprisingly, The Show Must Go On. Also qualifies as a Real Life example.
- Averted by Emilie Autumn, who would pause shows if something went wrong on stage.
- Played for Laughs by P.D.Q Bach. Many compositions include something going very wrong (The bassoonist's accompanist is running late! The trumpeter is missing most of their instrument! The lead females are cattily trying to one-up each other!) and then continuing anyhow.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic was on tour when he heard that his parents were found dead from carbon-monoxide poisoning. He continued with the tour, later commenting that doing that (along with the support he received from fans) helped him to get through it.
- Pink Floyd has dealt wit this trope:
- The Wall has a song by this name, where Pink, after having a long personal journey through is past is injected with drugs and forced onstage, despite not being sure if he would even remember the songs. This goes badly, with him emerging as a neo-Nazi when the show goes on.
- While on tour for their previous album, Animals, Roger Waters was suffering from what he though was stomach cramps (it later turned out to be hepatitis), so the band doctor injected him with a powerful muscle relaxant so he could go onstage. He said that he could have played through the pain, but whatever the doctor injected him with caused him to be barely able to lift his arm, causing him to go through "the longest two hours of my life" playing that concert. This experience inspired the classic song "Comfortably Numb."
- Judas Priest singer Rob Halford once crashed his motorcycle into a drum riser while riding it on stage during a concert in 1990, breaking his nose. He got back up and finished the rest of the set list before going to the hospital, despite the fact that he would have been in severe pain.
- The WWF suffered this trope in 1999 during their Over The Edge pay-per-view event, due to the death of Owen Hart happening as he was making his ring entrance.
- This actually happens often in professional wrestling. The most common causes are legit injuries and/or botched moves, or in rarer cases, botched use of props, weapons or equipment.
- We'll say that professional wrestling is like this in general. As a Cracked article put it, a wrestler is supposed to stay in character no matter what happens. Your opponent is legitimately trying to injure you? Ignore it and stay in character. You tore your ACL? Broke your ribs? Don't break character. One of the competitors died during the match? You can't even let that break kayfabe.
- This happened on Raw once with Jerry Lawler, who, in the middle of a tag team match he was calling, suffered a heart attack. There were several things amiss. The commentary had fallen silent, the crowd (along with one Kane) was looking at the announce table and something was clearly happening. The heart attack was later announced by Michael Cole, who seemed visibly shaken up. The show continued, but there was no commentary throughout the rest of the show, other than Cole providing updates on his condition. The rest of the show felt so... cold after this.
- During a 1973 concert in San Francisco, drummer Keith Moon of The Who passed out due to a drug reaction. Rather than stop the show, the band recruited an amateur drummer (the late Scott Halpin) from the audience to replace him and finish the show.
- Similarly, a 2002 performance by Counting Crows in Los Angeles saw drummer Ben Mize fall ill mid-show, requiring his hospitalization. After a brief intermission, the band switched to acoustic instruments and performed several songs without a drummer, before drummers Randy Guss of Toad the Wet Sprocket (their opening band) and Todd Roper of CAKE (who was in the audience) were persuaded to appear onstage to finish the show.
- Naturally, anybody who has appeared in live performances can testify to problems involved in cast members, problems with props or any number of unforeseen difficulties. The universal rallying cry is, in all circumstances, the Trope Title.
- Comic Red Skelton, on a live 1950s show, was doing a sketch with a cow, which started defecating, for a very long time. Needless to say, the audience was in stitches, and Red spent the interval pulling faces, holding his nose, and telling the cow "No ad-libbing!"
- On an episode of The Honeymooners, recorded live, Jackie Gleason was supposed to enter the scene but, for some reason, didn't for a couple of minutes. Art Carney, alone on stage, filled the time getting an orange from the refrigerator, peeling it, and managing to make it funny.
- Reportedly, when recording "The Show Must Go On" (mentioned above), Freddie Mercury was in seriously bad shape because of his battle with AIDS. One of the other band members approached him and asked him if he wanted to take a break. What Mercury did was down a glass of vodka and say "I'll fucking do it, darling!" before proceeding to nail the song in one take in what Brian May considers one of Freddie's greatest performances.
- Before opening night of RENT, composer Jonathan Larson collapsed and died. Needless to say, the cast moved on to perform the next night.
- What's more, when the cast was told, they decided to pay their respects by just singing through it seated around a table. By the time they got to "La Vie Boheme", everyone simultaneously agreed that Jonathan would want to see the show as it was meant to be, got up, and did the entire rest of the show, sans costumes.
- When a member of one of the Big Name Bands headlining at the Download musical festival fell ill on the night, members of several other bands performing at the festival stepped in to take his place for the set list, to prevent a possible riot if one of the bands that almost everyone wanted to see didn't perform as scheduled.
- In 1976, Bob Marley, his wife and his manager were attacked by gunmen in his home two days before a scheduled concert, "Smile Jamaica," organized by then-Prime Minister of Jamaica, Michael Manley to cool tensions between two rival political factions. Despite being injured in the attack, Marley went right ahead and performed in the concert two days later—"The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?"
- Another concert in Africa was disrupted when the police released tear gas to tame the increasingly wild crowd. While his backup singers and most of the musicians fled the stage, Bob kept singing, somehow able to shake off the effects of the gas.
- His final concert, where he performed flawlessly for several hours, including two encores, despite being riddled with cancer.
- In 1994, The Jesus Lizard were playing a show in Texas, when an unknown audience member threw a beer bottle at David Yow's head. After several minutes spent sweeping glass off the stage, getting Yow to his feet, and making sure he was okay, they started the same song over again and continued with the show. Yow even tried to taunt his attacker into doing it again before moving on.
- During a 1991 Judas Priest concert, lead vocalist Rob Halford collided with a drum riser while riding his motorcycle onto the stage, falling off his bike and breaking his nose. After regaining consciousness he returned to the stage and performed the remainder of the show despite the fact that he was in severe pain at the time. Halford didn't go to the hospital until after the concert was over.
- In 1986 James Hetfield of Metallica broke his wrist in a skateboarding accident, rendering him unable to play rythym guitar. Hetfield's guitar tech, John Marshall, filled in on rythym guitar until the injury healed (James still sang, being the band's lead vocalist in addition to the rythym guitaris). This incident prompted Hetfield's record company to include a clause in his contract forbidding him from riding a skateboard while the band was on tour.
- Despite a ruptured appendix, American magician and escape artist Harry Houdini did his final performance at the Garrick Theater in Detroit, Michigan on October 24, 1926; he died on October 31st.
- This is the entire plot of Noises Off.
- The plot of Curtains kicks off when the star of a musical in tryouts in Boston is murdered after a performance. The rest of the cast plan to go back to New York, and one of the producers tries to get them to stay for the rest of the preview period by singing "The Show Must Go On," but the actors are not convinced. It isn't until the detective on the case reminds them that they're "Show People" that they decide to stay.
- Defied in Pippin. When Pippin refuses to perform the final scene of the show (which has No Fourth Wall), the Players try to exhort him to continue, with remarks like, "Hey, you're not going to disappoint all these people at $25 a seat, are you?" But when they see that Pippin is firmly determined not to commit Self Immolation, they retaliate by taking away the lights, costumes, and makeup. The Leading Player apologizes to the audience that the promised finale cannot be presented, offers the part to anyone in the audience, and then orders everybody out, including the orchestra, leaving Pippin, Catherine and Theo to end the show on a denuded dark stage.
- Molière's last performance was the leading role for 'The Imaginary Invalid'. He incorporated a coughing fit and hemorrhage into his performance, and managed to complete the play before collapsing and dieing hours later.
- The climax of the first act of La Cage aux folles emerges from this trope. Backstage, professional Drag Queen Albin has just been told by his partner Georges that he must not be around when their "son" Jean-Michel's prospective and highly conservative in-laws come to dinner tomorrow night, as Jean-Michel has lied to them and claimed he comes from a "normal" family. Albin tries to be casual in the face of rejection as he heads out on stage as his alter ego Zaza to perform the evening's finale, but then he almost breaks down in tears...before pulling himself together and delivering a dazzling, emotionally-charged performance via one of the most famous Act One finales in Broadway history, "I Am What I Am".
- The opera in Final Fantasy VI gets completely derailed when the party and an enemy end up crashing down on it from above. They end up improvising completely non sequitur roles on the spot. Hilarity Ensues when the theater owner decides to Throw It In and has the orchestra cue up the appropriate music.
- By completely derailing, we mean a treasure hunter and two companions which may include the king, a feral teenager, a ninja, and a samurai, fighting an octopus, using powers believed to have vanished a thousand years ago, in the middle of a tragic love story, concluding with the female lead (played by a general of a rival nation's army) being abducted by the pilot of a zeppelin.
- Final Fantasy IX features a circumstance VERY similar to the FFVI example above in the opening sequence, when the main character's Thieves' Guild disguise themselves as an acting troupe performing the most popular play in the world as a guise to kidnap Princess Garnet. When Zidane, Garnet, and Captain of the Guard Steiner find themselves on stage in the midst of the production, Hilarity Ensues as they take the plot Off the Rails entirely in their bid to escape. And the Queen still loves it!
- Baldurs Gate 2 featured the start of a character recruitment quest happen at a theater where a recruitable NPC was kidnapped prior to the show. True to the trope, Biff the Understudy steps up to fill the role and delivers a wooden, stuttering, uninspired and all-around dreadful performance.
- Played for laughs in the King of the Hill episode where Bobby inherits a famous ventriloquist's dummy that was modeled after a stereotypical football-playing high school A-student... only to become dismayed when his father likes the dummy's "antics" more than Bobby's own. Bobby grows to hate this new attention, but mutters "the show must go on" when he realizes that being at the edge of the spotlight is better than not having attention at all. (Luckily, the trope is kinda subverted in the end when Hank isn't a total bastard - after the first dummy is destroyed, he decides to nurture Bobby by building him a new dummy that far more resembles the boy himself.)
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Show Stoppers", even though the show is falling apart, the CMC continue the show.
- During the episode "Filli Vanilli", Big Mac loses his voice, and Fluttershy, whos' terrified of singing publically, decides to down a potion made from poison joke to make her have a deep baritone, and sing his lines backstage while he lip-synchs, just so The ponytones will sing at her fundraiser.
- In the Animated Adaptation of Madeline and the Gypsies, this is the reason the Gypsy Mama gives for putting Madeline and Pepito in a lion costume (as the real lion is sick).
- The Simpsons: In "Million Dollar Maybe", Marge and Homer are supposed to perform a singing toast at her cousin's wedding. When Homer doesn't show at the wedding reception because he is buying a lottery ticket, Marge attempts to perform the toast on her own, despite the fact that it is a duet.
- This trope is prevailent in the Classic Disney Shorts The Band Concert and Symphony Hour. No matter what's going on, Mickey Mouse does his gosh-darn best to keep the music playing, even pulling a gun on Donald Duck when he tries to bail out of the latter short when things keep going wrong.