I could never, ever be a theater critic.
At least not in the area where I live. I know too many of the people involved in the theater scene. I know how they pretend not to care about the review, but how they’re secretly waiting for it to come out, and when it does, how they pore over every word, as if it’s the New York Times, and how they thrill at a good review of their performance, how crushed they are at a bad one, how they feel either relieved or snubbed if they’re not mentioned at all.
I’ve also worked in theater too much to be unbiased as a reviewer. I know how much work goes into a production. How can you be mean about, say, a set, when you know that even though it jiggles with every step and looks like it’s about to fall down and the tablecloth isn’t period to the setting or whatever the hell else, the set crew spent the better part of two months putting the damn thing together with every bit of free time that they have? Or how can you totally crush an actress when you know how much preparation went into the role, how much rehearsal time, how much time spent working with a dialect coach and memorization and travel time to and from the theater?
And, to top it off, I’m really quite forgiving. I know you wouldn’t think it from reading this day in and day out, but unless a show’s pretty bad, I’m happy. Mostly I’m happy because as a kid, I didn’t get to see much theater, so now I’m kind of living the dream because not only do I get to work on shows, I get to see 3-5 shows a month like a real fancy person. Yeah, sure, some things in them aren’t the best? But I’m SEEING A SHOW. Happy! Happy lady!
I’m not saying I wouldn’t make an excellent reviewer, on paper, at least. I’m totally confident in my review skillllzzzzz. I mean, not to be a completely arrogant asshole or anything, but I’m pretty well-read, drama-wise; I’ve seen a ton of productions; I know a lot of production values; and I know what separates a good show from a bad one.
But I’d really be a HORRENDOUS reviewer, all told, because I just couldn’t be Jack the Giant Dream Crusher. I just couldn’t.
Here, let’s take some random reviews I found while trolling the internet all fairy-tale-creature-like and look at them. WON’T THAT BE A GOOD TIME I TELL YOU.
My theater is currently casting Neil Simon’s Rumors. Let’s look at a review for that show, from a production in Hollywood in 2010.
Some highlights (lowlights?):
“The characters in RUMORS are all middle-aged, to one degree or another…Most cast members in this production look and read a good deal younger than even the earliest categorization of middle age. The result, in the hands of a too-young and all-around less-than-stellar cast, is a show that looks an awful lot like a high school production.
“This deficiency could be overcome, but the performers’ lack of connection to their characters, and inability to convey sophistication – both physical and verbal, dooms the production further.
“Nicholas Hargous, who plays Ken, doesn’t appear to be a bad actor, but his Midwest sound, and cowboy mustache suggest he’d be more appropriately cast in something by Lanford Wilson or Sam Shepard. Anne Wilson effectively portrays her character’s manic nerves and energy, and she looks fetching in a designer party dress, but she looks like a first-year law student, not a successful attorney. Most out of place is Michael Malass, whose Lenny Ganz sounds more like a Brooklyn meathead than a well-to-do, BMW-driving accountant. Many of his lines, some of the funniest in the script, are lost due to Malass’ poor enunciation.”
Ouch. OK, see, this is hurty, because maybe the only people who showed up to the auditions were younger! Maybe that’s all they had to work with!
And poor marble-mouthed Michael Malass! Aw. I’ll have to talk to our Lenny and make sure he ENUNCIATES HIS WORDS because GOOD GRAVY.
Here would be my review, by the way, of this same production:
“The characters in Rumors are all middle-aged, to one degree or another. And isn’t it just so interesting that the cast in this show isn’t? I’m sure that’s totally a conscious choice the director made. I mean, what other explanation could there be? So I just rolled with that? I mean, how am I to know this isn’t set in an alternate universe where people age differently than in our own?
“Nicholas Hargous sounded like a cowboy. Well! I like cowboys. Did anyone see Desperado when they were younger? It was a miniseries on television and the lead character was super-hot, and he fell in love with a woman who may or may not have been a schoolmarm or something, I don’t know, it was like twenty years ago, and they had a lot of hot prairie sex, and it was just the best. So I’m kind of pre-programmed to like cowboys, even if they don’t belong in this show.
“Anne Wilson had a lot of energy. I bet she likes those energy drinks you can buy at the gas station. Have you ever tried those? I feel like they would taste like electricity.
“Michael Malass was a little hard to understand but there’s really no way for me to tell whether or not he just had very, very serious dental surgery. I mean, assuming otherwise would be totally presumptuous, wouldn’t it? RUDE.”
OK. So let’s move onto something else. A musical! One of my favorites. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I know ALL of the lyrics to this one, you guys. I worked on it in college and have loved it ever since. Sometimes I pop in the CD just to jolly myself out of a bad mood. IT IS SO MUCH FUN.
But maybe not this production in London in 2007:
“Even by the self-parodic standards of a West End first night, this was a pretty bizarre occasion. The losers of TV’s Any Dream Will Do competition were seated together like Joseph’s envious brethren. Predatory camera crews roamed the aisles in the interval seeking soundbites. A technical hitch even led to the curtain being lowered for five minutes, meaning that we never actually saw Joseph being sold into slavery, thanks to a distinct lack of Ishamaelites. But everything about the occasion seemed disproportionate to the show itself.
“What you get, in place of narrative drive, are production effects: a flock of technicolor sheep and a Pharaonic fruit machine that dispenses corn cobs.”
Oh. Wow. Um. I..this kind of sounds like a lot of fun, actually. THEY WERE TRYING TO HAVE A GOOD TIME FOR THE MOST PART THEATER CRITIC MICHAEL BILLINGTON. Also, what exactly goes on at a West End first night, I ask you? My curiosity, she is PIQUED.
“There was a LOT going on here ZOMG. I have to give props to the director because why bother sticking to the boring old staging! ZIP ZAM ZOOM. And thank you, director, for not making us watch Joseph be sold into slavery. That part was always a total bummer, right? I mean, you’re singing about fun and coats and brothers and there’s a western-themed number and I LOVE COWBOYS and then Joseph’s all being shackled and brought off to slavery SUCH A TOTAL DOWNER I CAN’T EVEN. So in what can only be termed A TOTAL STROKE OF GENIUS, the director chose to hide that from us by lowering the curtain, as if time had skipped ahead, bringing us right to the next scene. BRAVO TO YOU SIR.”
What about Rock of Ages? That’s popular with the kids, right? And that Constantine person who made Rent so horrendous when I saw it on tour for the first time I wanted to stick knitting needles in my eyes was in it on Broadway. WHAT ABOUT ROCK OF AGES. I haven’t seen this one, because, well, I don’t care about it? Even one tiny iota little bit?
From a 2011 Houston production:
“Still, by theater standards, Rock of Ages is pretty bad…As with most jukebox shows, the result demonstrates that this material, however popular in its original form, lacks the character, variety and dramatic purpose to function as a theater score…Most distressingly, Rock of Ages continues the brazen dumbing-down of the musical…The big news was supposed to be Constantine Maroulis re-creating his Tony-nominated role as Drew. But on opening night, he was out sick.”
Whoa. WHOA NELLY. I can only assume there’s a typo here. Maroulis was nominated for ¼ of an EGOT? I don’t…this can’t be the case, right? OMG RESEARCH TELLS ME IT IS SO. This is HORRIFYING.
OK, fine, moving on.
I take offense at this review because there’s something that egregiously stands out to me as a mistake, other than the Tony upsettingness. But I am UP FOR THE CHALLENGE, I tell you. Even though I haven’t seen this musical.
“Rock of Ages takes hair-band music and makes it into a musical. Well, it’s about damn time someone did something like this. How innovative! I mean, a lot of time is spent in the world writing original songs for musicals. If you just take songs that were already written, and pop them into a plot that you had two stoner kids write when they were desperate for weed and burrito money, then think of the time you’ve saved? And with that time, you could do something else, like figure out how to program your DVR, or get to the next level of Angry Birds because it is SO HARD to knock over that ice fortress, I mean, SERIOUSLY, Angry Birds, no, ANGRY ME.
“And, in what can only be termed as an utter and complete stroke of genius, the production team did the most amazing bait-and-switch known to Houston-area audiences since the time someone rode a really large dog into a rodeo and thought no one would notice. All of the advertising touted Constantine Maroulis, a…Tony…award…nominated…actor…I’m sorry I had a hairball or something ANYWAY as reprising his role as Drew. So everyone went in very, very depressed and with very low – like what’s below your basement? Then dig down like fifty-three feet below that – expectations. BUT THEN! Just as the show started, it was announced HE WAS ILL. I can’t even imagine the wave of joy and rejoicing and yee-haws that were heard! So, even though the show was a total and complete stinker, like really, it was just loud, as if that made up for NO PLOT and the music wasn’t even good the FIRST time it was on the radio – everyone was SO EUPHORIC (imagine, if you will, Oprah’s Favorite Things audience, multiplied by children told they were going to Disneyland, squared by a football team told they not only had won the championship but that Megan Fox was there to give them all congratulatory handjobs) they didn’t have to sit through Constantine Maroulis that they would have loved anything. ANYTHING! These marketing geniuses should probably be nominated for something. I hear they’re just giving Tonys away to pretty much anyone nowadays, so they might want to look into getting one of those.”
So as you can see, I would be the best, BEST, theater reviewer ever, provided the following:
- No one ever reads the reviews;
- I can do them totally anonymously;
- The productions aren’t real productions (I think this would be best);
- I don’t have to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings, including actors, crew, theater staff, volunteers, or extended family or friends of any of the above;
- Constantine Maroulis was in ever production I reviewed.
Anyone want to offer me a job, YOU KNOW HOW TO REACH ME. The Batsignal, obvs.