This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
Search BBC
BBC World Service
BBC BBC News BBC Sport BBC Weather BBC World Service Worldservice languages
spacer gif
You are in: Home > Grammar, Vocabulary & Pronunciation > Ask about English
Learning English
spacer gif
entertainment idioms

Lia from Brazil writes:

I wonder if you could give me a clue to help me to understand the expression send in the
from the Stephen Sondheim musical
'A Little Night Music'?

Roger Woodham replies:

Song lyrics and poems are often difficult to understand because the writer uses very few words to establish the context.
Send In The Clowns
, comes from the Stephen Sondheim musical, A Little Night Music, first performed in 1973.

It's a lovely song to sing along with - and you can have a lot of fun improving stress and intonation patterns in your spoken English when you sing.

Désirée Armfeld is the main character in A Little Night Music. She's an actress, who has decided to settle down and marry a lawyer, Fredrik Egerman. Although Fredrik is the father of her child, Désirée discovers that Fredrik has just married a charming eighteen-year-old. She feels very disappointed.


send in the clowns

The expression send in the clowns comes from the circus where, if there was an accident or some other problem, e.g. performers or animals not yet ready to go on, the clowns were sent out into the circus ring to entertain the audience.

Désirée would like the clowns to be sent in to provide some entertainment to cheer her up.

Send in the clowns is also a phrase which is said when something goes wrong, but there is a need to keep things going. It is similar in meaning to the show must go on.



More entertainment expressions

Can you guess the meaning of some of these expressions?

  • I'd love to be on the stage. I've always wanted to be in showbiz.
  • I can guarantee that at least eight of these numbers will be show stoppers.
  • Road shows used to be very popular during the summer months.
  • Don't worry. She'll organise everything while you're away. She's quite capable of running the show.
  • Glynis Johns as Désirée in the original production of Night Music stole the show.

on the stage - working as an actor or actress in the theatre

showbiz - show business

number - a song or musical and dance scene

show stopper - a song or number that provokes such a strong reaction from the audience it stops the show

road show - a radio broadcast live from different venues or towns around the country

to run the show - to take charge of any event or activity, not necessarily connected with entertainment or showbiz.

to steal the show - to win the greatest applause and to be better than all the other performers

To practise using these entertainment expressions look at our Message Board today. We will correct your answers.

more questions

BBC copyright
Learning English | News English | Business English | Watch and Listen
Grammar and Vocabulary | Communicate | Quizzes | For teachers
Downloads | FAQ | Contact us