The Playgoer: Chaperone Spin

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Chaperone Spin

The new "underdog" curiosity of a musical The Drowsy Chaperone has certainly grown up fast in the ways of p.r.

Their ads and website proudly display (on an banner, no less) the following endorsement from the almighty Ben Brantley:

"Ingenious! The sleeper of the season!"

Followed by:
"It lifts the audience into a helium paradise of pure pleasure."

Try searching Brantley's actual review for those statements, however, and you'll find much more entertaining reading:
"Without its ingenious narrative framework and two entrancing performances — by Bob Martin as a lonely, musical-loving schlemiel with a hyperactive fantasy life and Sutton Foster as the showgirl heroine of his dreams — "The Drowsy Chaperone" would feel at best like a festive entree at a high-end suburban dinner theater."

"Though this revved-up spoof of a 1920's song-and-dance frolic, as imagined by an obsessive 21st-century show queen, seems poised to become the sleeper of the Broadway season, it is not any kind of a masterpiece."

"A little number called "Show Off" the one song that, on its own, lifts the audience into a helium paradise of pure pleasure. (Over all the songs, while serviceably imitative of the 1920's, are forgettable.)"

It's an old tactic, of course. But I don't remember ever seeing quote-morphing this deceptive.

The original review was generally thumbs-up, but--as these excerpts show--quite begrudgingly. It's the marketing people's job to salvage, of course. But isn't this beyond the pale of what once might have been considered acceptable?

If you're Brantley here, how could you not want to threaten legal action?


Anonymous said...

Is Jayme Kosyzn their press person?

Anonymous said...

As a critic who's been pullquoted both accurately and inaccurately, I think Ben will survive this mangling of his deathless prose. Frankly, a critic knows when he or she is salting a piece with bits of hype, however sarcastically deployed.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Cote. Brantley has been around long enough to know that--whatever qualifiers he includes--when he writes the phrase, "lifts the audience into a helium paradise of pure pleasure" it's going to get pull-quoted.

I think the more pertinent question is what business Brantley has using that phrase in a review of a play he had mixed feelings about.

You almost get the sense (not uncommon in Brantley's Broadway reviews) that he knows he's supposed to like the play, but doesn't. So he feels compelled to include some marketing-friendly verbiage.

parabasis said...

I think you're overreacting here. You can tell when a review has been deliberately written to defy blurb-construction and when it hasn't. If Brantly didn't want to give him anything, he could've written it differently.

And none of this compares to the heydey of Merrik getting someone whose name is Frank Rich to see the show, and then quote what they thought of it.

Anonymous said...

Parabasis refers to David Merrick's 1961 ad campaign for the musical Subways Are For Sleeping when seven ordinary New Yorkers who happened to have the same names as seven visible drama critics were given free tickets, wined, dined, and otherwise coerced by Merrick into sharing their thoughts on the show for publication. Merrick had been wanting to pull this scheme for years, but had to sit on his hands until the singularly named Brooks Atkinson retired from the NY Times and was replaced with the more doppleganger-friendly Howard Taubman.

Alison Croggon said...

Suing would certainly be overreacting (having been sued a couple of times myself, once for a review, I disapprove of writers suing, on principle).

It's pretty funny. The most egregrious example of pull quoting that happened to me was when I reviewed a show and said of the lead performance: "It is, in its own way, a tour de force - every young actor should see it, in order to learn what not to do". Which of course came out in the ad as the Bulletin saying "a tour de force...every young actor should see it".

All that's required is for someone to publicly point out the, er, gap in intentionality...

parabasis said...

thanks for the correction... I get my theater reviewer controversies confused!

My favorite ever pull-quoting story was from the New Yorker review of the film SPEED. After trashing the movie at length, the reviewer (I forget if it was Lane, Denby or someone else) ended it with a sarcastic "It's the best movie of the year"... only to find said quote splashed across an NYTimes ad the next day.

If memory serves correctly, anyway.