Hi, my name's Ellen, and I suffer from Pollyana-itis. Is that the disease of the day you ask? Invented by a pharmaceutical overlord?
Nope, it's just me confessing to my eternal optimism in the face of the wildly shifting tectonic plate of public opinion.
Today, I looked at these iconic theatre masks and decided that instead of comedy and tragedy, they were saying to me, "Ellen, always remember: you saw one show, I saw another."
A superhero power I wish I had? The power to unhear or unread spoilers and other people's opinions when it comes to theatre I have not yet seen. Whether it's a professional critic's review, or a friend's musings, I wish I could enjoy that review or opinion on its own merit and then file it away in the "blah blah blah I can't hear you" file until after I've formed my own opinion. I am, in a word, susceptible. And that makes me avoid reviews like the plague before I've seen a show. But then along came social media and all my best efforts seem to be for naught. I love Twitter and I love Facebook, but I don't love the spoilers...and they're getting pretty hard to avoid. So I guess I'm going to have to girl-up and get tough.
This is a big reason why I try hard to see shows during previews. During previews, official reviews are generally not yet out there. Word of mouth certainly is, but people who did enjoy a show I suspect are more open about it before the tide has turned, especially if a show takes a very public trouncing in the press after opening night (think "Bonnie & Clyde" or "Spiderman Turn Off the Dark"). I was in NYC fairly soon after "Bonnie & Clyde" started previews and I heard folks talking in line at the shows I was seeing...every single person I heard LOVED the show...they didn't just like the show, they LOVED the show. I already had tickets to see it in a couple of weeks and was so glad I'd decided to see it. Then came opening night and a spate of negative reviews. The show couldn't survive in the face of it, and I quickly got an email telling me the show would close before my ticketed date and here was my refund. But I didn't want a refund! I wanted to see the show! This show remains, in my experience, one of the most-lamented closings of the past couple of years. And its leads are no slouches either; each has gone on to other big projects i.e., Jeremy Jordan ("Newsies" and now "Smash") and Laura Osnes (the upcoming "Cinderella"). To many people's great delight, a cast recording was released after the show closed.
"Lysistrata Jones" was a big hit off Broadway and moved to Broadway for what proved an all-too-short run and disappointingly mixed reviews. I almost missed that one too, but the show closed a day after my ticket was for. Phew. It was so much fun! I enjoyed it much more than a number of big shows that lasted much longer. And I went into it knowing that it had gotten some negative reviews, and having heard from some people I'd just met at a show a month before that they'd left at intermission [eek :) see my earlier post about leaving at intermission, below]. That had me questioning my ticket choice. But within the first few minutes, I was ecstatic that I'd gone, and by the end, I was truly baffled by some of the extremely negative things I'd heard and read. (This show also got a cast recording.)
People have gotten downright sheepish in confessing that they indeed did like "Spiderman" despite the bashing the show took. And in the reverse, being almost embarrassed to admit that they didn't like "Once" or "Book of Mormon" in the face of what seems to be universal love. Before they knew everyone "loved" it, they might have been a bit less apologetic. And they shouldn't be. Their opinion is just as valid...and more valid to them, of course.
It's just so tough to not be influenced by what someone else thought. And I love the feeling of discovery and reacting to the moment, without having a preconception driven by someone else's experience.
Another example? I loved "Ghost"...loved the story, the special effects, the actors and some (but not all) of the songs. I also didn't love some aspects of the production itself, but overall I had a great experience, and so did many people I talked with. But to say the critics were not impressed is an understatement; the majority of reviews were pretty bad. And some folks told me they just didn't respond to it or it left them cold. I saw the show twice, and definitely enjoyed it more the first time than the second, so I understand both sides. But it had so many good things to recommend it.
And now "Chaplin," which has received some really fantastic word of mouth during previews. The show had its opening night the other night, and the professional critics were not impressed, to say the least. I will be seeing it next weekend and it seems to have all the elements of a show I'll like, but I guess we'll see. But I had enjoyed the little bubble of positivity up to this point.
I really do enjoy a well-written professional review, positive or negative, if it's thoughtful, productive and not vitriolic (you can be measured and still be highly critical and, yes, entertaining). I have absolutely agreed with some very negative reviews. But what frustrates me is that, if a show (especially a revival) didn't measure up to my expectations, that does not mean that there was some plot to foist bad theatre on me (and really, my definition of "bad theatre" is just that...mine), so I don't have a great deal of patience with an overload of vitriol in a review.
I may love what you hate and you may hate what I love. And that's fine, but it doesn't make either of us wrong. Opinions and reviews and discussion and passion are what make theatre so satisfying...it's such a human experience, this telling of stories. I don't want people to be dishonest about what they think, I just really, really wish I could unhear/unread/unprocess all those opinions before I walk into the theatre and the curtain rises for the first time for me.
So I'm not saying I don't maintain my own opinions whether or not they are in the majority. Or that I don't want to hear what you think of a show you've seen. I really, really do. I just may not ask you what you think until after I've seen it! :). That's why I rush to see shows early in their runs so that I can talk about it with you. I truly enjoy meeting that show and shaking its hand before someone at the virtual watercooler whispers in my ear that they don't like its outfit. :)