Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Never Trust a Critic

I'm sure there are people who base their decisions of whether to attend a show (or a movie) or not on what the  critic in their local paper tells them.

I learned long ago to take reviews of anything with a huge grain of salt.

In the days when we were in the SF Bay Area and I was working for the Lamplighters, if we could even get a critic to come to a show, we had two different types of critics who would show up.  We had the woman who wrote a "review" that consisted of telling the plot of all the familiar Gilbert & Sullivan stories and named which actor played which role.  That is hardly a review.  You can read that in the program.

On the other hand, some of the other reviewers seemed to take the title "critic" literally and felt it was their duty to find something to criticize.  No matter how good the show, they would carp about the smallest thing that they didn't like.

And then there were the personal prejudices of the critics.  I remember one critic arriving at a Gilbert & Sullivan production at the Lamplighters and I heard him groan to his companion "Oh dear, I suppose I'm going to have to sit through xx and xx tonight," the xxs being principal performers in the company that he, personally did not like.  I believe he was the one who reviewed the female xx once as being as sexy as a wet toothbrush.  He never had a single good thing to say about her, though all the rest of us thought she was marvelous (as did all the professional companies that hired her after she left the Lamplighters).

(I love the show, "Theater Talk" produced by CLUNY-TV and runs at midnight on Sundays here.  I record it and watch later.  The host is Michael Riedel of the New York Post and he interviews various Broadway people. But my favorite shows are when he sits around talking theater with 3 other critics--not the same ones all the time. Some of them are so bitchy I wonder if they ever write anything positive about anything.  That's not my idea of what a critic, especially one in a small town, should be doing.)

I am always flattered when people tell me that they read my reviews if they are considering going to a show, to decide if they will really go or not.  It's nice that they do that, but what I write is only my opinion and I could differ quite a lot from another reviewer.

The production of The Pirates of Penzance that I reviewed this weekend is a wonderful case in point.  I read the review of another critic (a "real" critic -- I call myself a "faux" critic because I don't have the credentials for this job).  When I read his review, I wondered if we had seen the same show.
For starters, my headline read "STC's 'Pirates of Penzance' simply sparkles."  His read "Sacramento Theatre Company stages an awkward ‘Pirates of Penzance’"

I opened my review with "Saving the best for last, the Sacramento Theatre Company closed out its current season with a sparkling new production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s 'The Pirates of Penzance.' ... This show is so tightly directed and so exquisitely choreographed that the small cast was more than adequate. The whole show moved with the precision of the Rockettes. Every move is sharp and crisp with wonderful little bits added."

He started his review, "The play’s goofy humor is everything, even in its current dullish staging at Sacramento Theatre Company. Director Michael Laun’s production seems to present the show as if being slightly ineptly staged in a high school gymnasium flanked with lush velvet curtains, barely populated but intentionally flimsy props and a clumsy actor or two."

He then goes on to take the track the San Francisco reviewer used to do, give the plot and who played what.
I ended my review with, "On the whole, this is just a superlative production. I’ve been following Gilbert & Sullivan around the world for some 50 years and I think this ranks up there as one of the best productions of 'Pirates of Penzance' that I have seen."

He ended his with, "'The Pirates of Penzance' has never been anything but cake and frosting, and while it still works as dessert here, it’s more perfunctory than inspired."

Should someone go see this production of Pirates of Penzance?  Heck, beats me.  I loved it.  The Sacramento critic hated it.  I also spoke with the wife of another critic (his review has not come out yet), who said "Boy, you can sure see how important enunciation is," indicating that she couldn't understand a word that was said, where I felt that the diction had been crisp and clear (and I have a hearing impairment...but then I do have the advantage of knowing the show backwards and forwards).

Disagreements with this would ordinarily make me doubt my own opinions and my qualifications as a critic, except that if there is any part of theater on which I have a great deal of expertise, it's Gilbert & Sullivan.  I would be hard pressed to know how many times I have seen Pirates of Penzance in my life or how many different companies' versions I have seen.  (Heck, I was the only critic who knew that this production had added a song from Ruddygore into Act 2).  So I don't say that I have the definitive review of this production, but I have no question whatsoever about my feelings for this particular production and I would recommend it to anyone.

It just proves that you should never trust a critic!  Get to know your favorite critic's proclivities and understand that his or her opinion could be quite different from yours.

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