Patti LuPone couldn't believe her ears.
"There was this woman in the first row, eating out of a paper bag, so loudly that even people around her were trying to get her to stop," an appalled LuPone said of the incident that happened during her Broadway run in the musical "Sweeney Todd."
Another actor on stage used her prop _ a flute _ to nudge the woman to stop eating, reaching into the audience with the instrument and pushing down on the woman's bag of snacks, LuPone said. "But the woman kept eating whatever it was _ things that came out in little balls."
Such encounters have become increasingly common in theaters up and down Broadway, where the sound of music is sometimes mixed with a symphony of snacking. More Broadway theaters are allowing people to bring drinks, candy, chips and even popcorn to their seats as they try to boost their bottom lines.
And the bottom line is _ the bottom line. Concession sales at the Hilton Theatre have more than doubled since refreshments were allowed into the shows about three years ago.
Meanwhile, to eat or not to eat is an issue that has divided Broadway.
The Shubert Organization, which operates 17 theaters, does not permit food or drinks into performances. The Nederlander Organization allows snacks into most of its shows, especially performance spaces that are staging family fare such as "The Lion King" and "Beauty and the Beast." Nederlander also allows people to bring in wine poured into spill-proof cups.
Nederlander vice president Jim Boese defended the organization's selling of snacks.
"This is not an orgy of gorging _ it's just a recognition of reality," he said.
"We're trying to be responsive to consumers, and we've found that more and more parents and others are asking for certain kinds of snacks," said Boese. "We've served Twizzlers forever. This is about creating a broader array of things that people can eat."
Last year, the Nederlander added popcorn to its snack menu at the Neil Simon Theatre for the musical "Hairspray."
"Producers felt this show was fun," said Susan Lee, Nederlander's head of marketing. "Popcorn in the theater sets an environment, and the concession became a part of the entertainment."
She said Nederlander considers the nature of the show when deciding where snacks should be enjoyed.
For Eugene O'Neill's quiet, brooding "A Moon for the Misbegotten" _ opening in March at the Brooks Atkinson Theater _ "snacks inside are not appropriate," said Lee. The ushers will ask theatergoers to refrain from taking them in, and signs will be posted to that effect.
Nederlander lobby signs also urge patrons to remove their noisy candy wrappers ahead of time.
But a theater cannot police what Lee called "the changing etiquette."
The spectacle of theatergoers loudly gobbling snacks, said playwright Paul Rudnick, does not reflect well on American audiences.
"It feeds into the caricature of Americans stuffing themselves at every opportunity," he said, deadpanning, "I feel you should be allowed to bring in a flat-screen TV and a Scrabble game _ if you're in such desperate need of distraction."
He said no actor he knows likes to perform in front of munching people.
"The actors are giving their all for your entertainment. Control those cravings!" he said, adding that in Shakespeare's time, "you had the rabble tossing chicken legs at the stage. But those were cheaper seats."
When it comes to chomping in a Broadway theater, with tickets topping $100, even the cheap eats have a decibel hierarchy.
Fresh popcorn may be the worst offender _ between the rumpling of the bag and the chewing sounds _ and potato chips right behind. Twizzlers licorice are a quiet treat _ as long as you open the wrapper first. And gummy bears take the prize for silence.
But there's just no shushing popcorn _ or LuPone's outrage.
"People are slobs. Everybody leaves their junk for somebody else to pick up," she said.
LuPone said that if she returns to Broadway, "I'll sit down with the producers and ask them to ask people to please stop eating. If you're hungry, don't come to the theater!"
Patti LuPone couldn't believe her ears.