The Playgoer: Just Because it's on Broadway Doesn't Mean you Have to Call it Art

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Just Because it's on Broadway Doesn't Mean you Have to Call it Art

"No visual arts critic is expected is to write a column that covers everything from a Gainsborough retrospective, the new Rachel Whiteread and then the Hollyoaks Hunks calendar....The opening of a new West End musical is closer to the launch of a new ride at Alton Towers - and nobody bothers to review them."

- Mark Ravenhill, in the Guardian.

Assuming Alton Towers is the UK's answer to Disneyland(?) I like Mark Ravenhill's point here, even though I'm ambivalent. In short--why review outright commercial claptrap as "theatre"?

Once, just once, I'd love to see the New York Times just not review something like Grease, or All Shook Up, or even 3 Mo' Tenors. Or at least, don't send your first string theatre critic, but an "entertainment" columnist. Just because someone has footed the enormous bill to put something on Broadway doesn't mean you have to call it theatre. I'm sure many critics would agree with me about wasted evenings at totally non-dramatic (and hideously boring) events.

My ambivalence, though, comes from some residual belief, faith, in the great Broadway tradition of providing at least well-crafted and aesthetically pleasing--and sometimes even socially edifying--entertainment. While I might have written off Jersey Boys pre-opening as just another cynical jukebox musical, many testify otherwise. (I still haven't seen it myself.) Others sing the kitchy praises of even Xanadu and Legally Blonde, as at least satisfying displays of craft.

But in the end, it would be refreshing to see some editorial discretion from arts editors when it comes to how to devote your precious column inches on theatre. They make no bones about ignoring over 50% of Off & Off-Off Broadway. So why not give just one or two Rialto shows a pass.

To put it as only Ravenhill can, about attending the West End opening of Joseph, the latest Andrew Lloyd Webber reality-tv stunt:

It was a kitschly enjoyable event, though it had as much to do with a night of good theatre as homemade porn does with a lifelong relationship.


Ken said...

I would draw the boundaries a little differently: no reviewing of "spectacle" theater that has no text, story, or characters (e.g., Stomp, De La Guarda, Blue Man Group, etc.). It's highly doubtful there's anything a critic can write that would alter (or complement or deepen) anyone's perception of these events.

Anonymous said...

This gets into the discussion I was having with David Cote on his blog. My proposal: Review Broadway, but don't be at the mercy of their opening schedules. These shows will be around for a long time (unless they are are really terrible...and poorly marketed). If there are more intesting shows popping up that week with shorter running times, review them, then get around to the big commercial show on a smaller week. Especially with a weekly like TONY, no one is depending on the TONY review for Broadway. But there is so little coverage outside, that many depend on TONY there.

That goes for the other weeklies, of course, too.

Art said...

I'm surprised nobody has yet brought up the fact that the Times, etc get mondo advertising dollars from these shows. Not that this legitimizes the coverage, but it is a huge factor.

Also, a commenter on the Ravenhill article brings up an important, if not obvious point:

"I understand exactly the sort of musicals Ravenhill would fill column inches with and which he wouldn't. What I object to is him pre-deciding which are 'good' before the lay person (i.e. myself) has a chance to hear about them and read about them, and make my own informed decision."

Anonymous said...

but broadways shows pump lots of ad revenue dollars into the times coffers... if those neglected off and off-off broadway shows could contribute similar ad dollars, i'm sure they'd get similar coverage. i'm not saying i like it either, but isn't it obvious what generates the primary focus of arts coverage in the times?

Anonymous said...

oops, art beat me to it... well said, art. well said. ; )