Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Grand Night to Take Me Out

This week’s Style has a review of RTP’s “Take Me Out” by Ms. Burruss. My schedule over the next couple of weeks will probably only permit me to see one show that’s currently showing and it’s looking like it’s going to be this one. As is always the case, too many shows, not enough babysitters…

There was also an online-only review of “A Grand Night for Singing” posted last week by Rich Griset, a tart pan of the Mill’s revue. I have not seen the show so I really can’t argue the merits of the review as far as describing the quality of the production. However, in terms of its journalistic merit, I greatly appreciate the specificity of the review. My biggest criticism of critics is when they make blanket criticisms without specific examples. You may not like what Mr. Griset has to say but he does an excellent job of backing up his assertions. I will say that I shy away from words like “atrocious” in my own reviews but, then again, I don’t shy away from superlatives when praising something so I can’t really fault someone from using them in criticism.

More fascinating to me than the review, however, is the response to it in the comments. If people take issue with a review, I would expect them to respond directly to the points the critic makes. Was the lighting all over the place or not? What about the set design – does the crown molding make sense or not? Was the choreography compelling or not? Saying “I've read book reports by high schoolers that were better written” is just name-calling.

But this comment in particular jumps out to me: “The other reviewers used by Style are friends and even family members of people who work in local theatre and their reviews show an avoidance of saying anything truly critical, with some rare exceptions. We need less cheerleaders and more Frank Riches.” Hmmm… I guess I resemble that remark…

It’s another iteration of what happens when a negative review gets published: many people rush to defend the object of the criticism and/or attack the critic. At the same time, a smaller subset are (sometimes secretly) thankful that somebody put in print what they’ve murmured to their closest friends, convinced that “tough love” is the what a critic is supposed to dole out. And the world continues to turn…


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the show.

Lighting was awful.

Crown molding: who cares!

Rather valid review.

Although harsh.

But refreshing.

Anonymous said...

Many folks I work with in local theatre will privately share their opinions about others' work, and are often puzzled when apparently mediocre work is praised or work they see as outstanding is panned. But it is subjective and a critic should render their honest, informed opinion. The true test is whether or not patrons buy tickets and tell their friends to do the same. Everyone wants great reviews and everyone is not great all the time (and some NEVER are), but what matters most is getting audiences to pay to see the play.

joepabst said...

My primary concern with this review is Mr. Griset's assertion: "Usually a revue such as this has a story or theme that runs throughout, linking the songs together." Actually, a story is very rare in a typical musical revue. Think: "Side by Side by Sondheim" (Stephen Sondheim), "By Strouse" (Charles Strouse), or "And the World Goes 'Round" (Kander & Ebb). I consider shows like "Forever Plaid" (which Mr. Griset references) or “Always, Patsy Cline” more plays with music than musical revues. The plots are interwoven with material not originally intended for the theatre.

Unfortunately, if a reviewer appears unfamiliar with the genre, the reader might question the reviewers credentials & qualifications. I am not familiar with this individual; I don't know that I've read any other of his reviews. I tend to measure a reviewer’s opinions against my own to determine how closely they match. Based on this one, it seems that his opinions and mine will not coincide.

I found the rethinking of some of the classics such as “Maria” fresh and highly enjoyable. I disagree that the songs lost any sort of meaning, or that the actors and audience had no idea what they were about. I was pleased to hear some of the wonderful songs from less-than-successful shows, and would have been disappointed had I only heard those tunes that I’ve heard a thousand times before. (And I found the remark about Audra’s too-billowy skirt to be unnecessary and a bit crass.)

All in all, it boils down to expectations. Obviously, Mr. Griset came expecting to see something that he just didn’t see. Having seen and been involved in many musical revues in my career, I had a very clear idea what to expect. And this talented group of people exceeded my expectations! I found it very charming indeed!

Plus, it’s not often you get to see a harp used in the orchestra!

Dave T said...

Very insightful and articulate response, Mr. Pabst! Thanks.

Andrew said...

"All in all, it boils down to expectations. Obviously, Mr. Griset came expecting to see something that he just didn’t see."

I find that this is the heart and soul of many a negative review and audience experience. When we go to a show open to receiving the experience that has been prepared for us by the company, we tend to like much more.

Stephen S. said...

Andrew, I totally agree with you.

If a person comes to a show with expectations and with the intent to find flaws, of course he or she ends up being negative.

If a person goes simply to be entertained, chances are he or she will only be negative if something stands out as awkward or bad!

Good reflection!

Brandon said...

Having been a theatre critic myself and written many a pan - I think what I take the most umbrage with is the lack of tact in which the criticism was presented. Although he may have been specific it doesn't mean the comments were articulated in a professional manner. Honestly much of the review uses what I would consider immature sarcasm as a substitute for thoughtful analysis.

To be specific - on the choreography Mr. Griset uses the word "lame" which negates any semblance of qualified experience. Besides being a tremendously rash generalization (swaying occurred in 3-4 out of the 36 songs) the term appears juvenile in its level of criticism. As Mr. Pabst pointed out it would also be helpful for Mr. Griset to know the limitations/conventions of a piece as well; while I would loved to choreograph elaborate and death defying movement for the show – it is does not call for it. It literally is constructed for minimal, charming choreography that supports the tone and musical elegance of the piece…I tried to fit as much “coolness” as I could (as Mr. Griset obviously noticed and supported in his review )but to go any further would have been dishonoring the material that we were serving.

I have no problem with the criticism – it was actually somewhat entertaining to receive the first negative review of my choreography. I just wish Mr. Griset was able to articulate his objections to my – and other aspects of the show – in a more refined manner. Again – not asking for him to make his comments more ‘palatable’ – just ‘professional’.

Biggest red flag in the review was the comment about Stepsister’s Lament. What original musical version is he speaking about with the stepsister’s physically assaulting one another? To say that a number should be performed a certain way is not only incredibly presumptive – but the statement is inaccurate. The original Julie Andrews version contains no assaulting whatsoever; neither does Leslie Ann Warren’s and Brandy’s only slightly. Frankly it makes the reviewer sound uninformed and of the opinion that there are only certain ways things can be done.

Again – criticism in the theatre is subjective – and reviews are the heightened expression of this, but I think the comments the review has engendered is more about the writing/presentation and less about the ‘negative’ tone of it.

Am I disappointed that my last production in this exceptional Richmond theatre community was panned? Sure. Am I much more disappointed that it was poorly articulated by an inexperienced critic? Absolutely. But hopefully Mr. Griset will learn from this and continue to hone his skills so that in the future he can be as eloquent and incisive as he apparently desires to be.

Paul said...

To first Anonymous:
How does "enjoyed the show" = "rather valid review?"

Like Brandon, I too found the Griset review to be "somewhat entertaining." I actually laughed out-loud while reading, and there are witnesses. "Atrociously bad" are very colorful words, but not any that could ever be associated with the work of Tom Width.

Of all the shows I've been part of, this show will remain on my short list of favorites.

P.S. Joe's right! How many shows have featured a harp? I mean... a genuine pedal harp (do you even know what a pedal harp is?) and someone like Emily Cole, who can actually play it! Geesh~! Kudos to the Mill for budgeting for all that was written for in the pit.