Choosing a Show
It's All About YOU!!
When you're making the decision about how to spend that ticket allowance, these are some questions to ask yourself and my thoughts on each. However, in the end, you must trust your own answers and not be overly swayed by someone else's opinion; e.g., if you have a strong dislike for musicals, that's ok! You might still try one every now and again, but balance the fact that it's a musical with something that is in your wheelhouse, like cutting edge subject matter; and maybe stay away from the big, splashy, based-on-the-movie-you-thought-was-dumb shows, even if everyone and every one of everyone's extended family says it's the best thing they've ever seen....
My favorite quote about tasting wine applies here: "When it comes to tasting wine, I tell people to throw away the vintage charts and invest in a good corkscrew; the best way to learn about wine is by drinking it." Alexis Lichine (1913-1989) Go to the theater to learn what you like, and to have loads of fun while you're at it!
Remember: There are no right answers here! :)
Do I want a play or a musical?
I hope you'll try both; but sometimes you're really in the mood for some tunes and choreography :). The Playbill listing of Broadway shows will tell you if a show is a drama, musical, comedy, dark comedy, etc. I love musicals, but some of the most moving, breathtaking theatrical experiences I've had have been at plays. By the way, some plays do include music, Peter and the Starcatcher for example; but if it's not listed as a musical, it will generally be a minor part.
Is it important that I see actors with whom I'm familiar?
I absolutely use the cast as a determining factor in some cases. That's the great thing about casting well-known actors on stage; it may motivate you to go and see a show that might otherwise not appeal to you, but turns out to be an incredible experience, as well as being a doorway to a new type of show for the future.
Is it important that I be familiar with the story beforehand?
This can be a trap for the unwary, as they say. Meaning that if you go see a show because you loved the book, movie or previous stage incarnation, you must manage your expectations. Remember that Chris Columbus, director of the first Harry Potter film was roundly criticized for sticking too closely to the book and making a dull film (not my opinion by the way :)). I try to trust the show's creative team to help me see the story in a different (and sometimes better) way. The good news is that if you are familiar with the story, you're one step ahead in knowing whether a show might appeal to you.
Is it important that I be smiling and happy when I leave the theater or is it satisfying to be moved or challenged or surprised?
Sometimes you're just in the mood to laugh or have a warm, fuzzy feeling when you go to see a show. Trust that instinct, but I can't urge you enough to take the chance on some more serious or intense shows; the experience can be transformative.
If it's a musical, do I want it to be filled with big production numbers or is it sufficient that the music is appealing and appropriate to the show?
It seems obvious, but if you want a "rollickin' good time," then read the description of the show carefully~just because a show is a musical does not mean it's toe tappin'. Once, for example, is a quiet, gentle show with unique staging and choreography. It won the Tony Award for best musical, but Wicked or Book of Mormon it's not. On the other hand, Book of Mormon has big song/dance production numbers. If you like big production numbers you'll be able to tell from the show's marketing whether a particular show will fit the bill. Some folks I know have a real aversion to those shows that involve big splashy song/dance numbers. But just because a show is classified as a musical does not mean that it has over-the-top production numbers. And just because it's got big production numbers doesn't make it family-friendly or cheerful (The Scottsboro Boys is a great example of one of those; amazing show, but not for everyone).
Do I want to see great dancing?
If you are a dance fan like me, then look for shows for which the buzz includes mentions of a celebrated choreographer(s) and/or the dancing is promoted as a highlight. Good examples currently are Newsies and Pippin.
Do I want to see a show that everyone's talking about, even if it hasn't gotten great reviews or isn't my usual taste?
If your answer is yes, just please make sure you know what you're getting into, and are willing to spend the money to take the risk simply to be current at the water cooler. I absolutely recommend you see shows that broaden your horizons and expand your comfort zone, but don't choose a show that doesn't appeal to you at all only because it's the "hot new thing."
The flip side of this advice is, with respect to less-than-stellar reviews, sometimes word of mouth is more relevant than a critic's opinion. Do not be afraid to go to a show that seems appealing to you, even if you've heard some negative things, whether person-on-the-street or professional reviews. I'm so glad I didn't let somewhat negative buzz about shows like Chaplin, Big Fish and Hands on a Hardbody scare me off. I would have missed so much.
Am I easily offended by coarse language, sexual situations, racial, political, gay or religious subject matter?
I am constantly amazed at the number of people willing to spend money on tickets to a show they know nothing about. Many, if not most, shows now have websites that will often include video highlights. There are age recommendations/ restrictions listed for some shows, and that may help with a theatre-goer of any age who might have sensitivities to subject matter. It is not always possible to know the prevalence of profanity, for example, but the storyline may give you a clue. The Book of Mormon is a show that telegraphed its potential risk for sensitive audience members because its creators are the creators of the animated (and risqué for many) show South Park. That told me right away that I needed to look carefully, as that's not generally my taste. I ended up loving the show, but I knew what I was likely getting myself into before I went.
One word of caution: do not assume on first reading of a show's synopsis that you know how the story will turn out on stage. A particularly striking example of that is The Scottsboro Boys, a musical about a painful event in the history of civil rights in this country. It was inconceivable to me that you could take this subject matter, make it a musical with a minstrel show format, and not completely appall me. But this show remains one of the most magnificent shows I've ever seen...and I almost didn't see it. Unfortunately, many others didn't take the chance and the show closed much sooner than it should have.
Do I have strong preferences as to where I sit?
If you will only be happy sitting in the center orchestra, or the first few rows, or the first row mezzanine, then be careful about choosing the show that you weren't committed to anyway, and may not enjoy because you were too far away or too far over to the side. That said, if this is your only opportunity to see a particular show that appeals to you, get the best seat you can and if you really, really love it, try to go back and see it again from your preferred location!
Am I taking children to the theater? [see the StageSprites page for more!]
This is an important question of course, and it does seem to go without saying, but check the age recommendations/restrictions for a show at the least. More importantly, talk to your child about what appeals to them; you might be surprised. I read the descriptions of shows to my niece one time and she picked a show that I was nervous she wouldn't like (I knew it was appropriate; I just didn't know if it was her taste)...she LOVED it. The flip side of that is that if you take a child to a show that isn't appropriate for their level or tastes without doing your homework, you could make them reluctant to go back to the theatre.