Saturday, March 8, 2008

To listen or not to listen

By nature, I'm an information gatherer. It's instinctive, innate, in my genes, in my blood, in my bones, or something. Whatever it is, I can't be any other way.

So it's taking every ounce of willpower I can muster, which normally isn't much, to stay away from video clips and audio clips and stories and reviews of the Broadway musicals I'm seeing in just a few short weeks - In the Heights, Cry-Baby, South Pacific and Gypsy.

I don't really want to unplug my computer, pretend Al Gore never invented the Internet, cover my eyes and ears and relocate to a cave for the rest of the month. But it's tough, because I'm torn between competing desires.

I'm excited about my upcoming trip, so I want to read and hear and see everything I can beforehand. At the same time, I want to maintain a sense of surprise and anticipation that will stay with me until I'm in my seat, listening to the music and watching the story unfold right before my eyes.

Actually, I'm giving myself a free pass on Gypsy, since I saw it at City Center over the summer, and a reduced pass on South Pacific, since I've seen the movie and the concert version on DVD. Because they won't be total surprises, I'm allowing myself to read reviews of Gypsy and listen to the scores of both musicals. (See, I told you I don't have much willpower!)

But I'm trying my best to hold firm on In the Heights and Cry-Baby. Let me tell you, it's not easy with all that temptation at my fingertips.

First, within a half-hour of the end of the first preview, or sometimes even the end of the final dress rehearsal, someone on the Broadway World or Talkin' Broadway message board posts a review. Yeah, I admit I'm a little bit addicted to those boards, even if they do tend to get kind of repetitive after awhile.

Obviously, it's impossible to remain completely in the dark. I mean, it's not like I could take a monthlong vacation from all things Broadway and theater-related. I'm too far gone for that. If you pay attention to the theater, you can't help but read about a show months or years beforehand - during workshops or out of town or off-Broadway.

So I know the basic story of In the Heights and Cry-Baby. But I'm doing my best to stay away from audio and video clips and interviews with the cast and creative team. That's difficult to do, especially in the case of Cry-Baby, since the music starts playing when you click on the Web site.

Last year, I think there were some shows I knew way too much about before I saw them. I loved Spring Awakening, but I really wish I hadn't watched the cast perform "The Bitch of Living" on The Late Show or read so many spoiler-filled reviews.

Also, I wish I hadn't read A Moon for the Misbegotten before I saw the play. My only defense is, I read the play when Kevin Spacey was still doing it in London, and at that time I had no idea I'd be seeing it on Broadway. I'm staying away from his current play, Speed-the-Plow, just in case there's a Broadway transfer.

I just think back to how hard I laughed at the finale of Curtains, how surprised I was to find out whodunit. I did an especially good job of maintaining a healthy sense of ignorance on that one, thank-you very much!

I know that some theatergoers like listening to the score of a musical before they see a show. If you're trying to decide whether or not to buy a ticket, of course that makes sense. But I'm glad I saw Curtains months before the Broadway cast CD came out.

I'd only heard the briefest of snippets of the songs from Wicked before I saw the musical. I don't think "For Good" would have hit me quite so hard if I'd been listening to it every day for the previous three months. I've mentioned before that as soon as I heard the song, I started to cry. And I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.


Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, I'm with you on the element of surprise, although if a Broadway show comes out prior to my seeing it, I still feel obliged to read the reviews regardless, but I try to skip through the lines that give away the plot. Hard to do, but I've managed OK.

Looking forward to discovering the essence of several of the shows you've named - along with you - later this month!

Esther said...

Hey Steve, I can't wait for my first Broadway outing of 2008! And of course I'm looking forward to sharing it with you and some of our theater-loving friends.

Well I'm glad you read the reviews, because I know that if I want to wait until after I've seen a show, I can always catch up through your incredibly comprehensive critics capsules! I know how time-consuming they are to assemble, but they're a great resource. So all of your effort is greatly appreciated.

I think you're right, you can kind of skim through the reviews and pass quickly over the parts that give away too much, and of course a good critic won't give away too much.

So far, I've been able to stay away from listening to any of the music from "Cry-Baby and "In the Heights," although it's very tempting. But I do want to maintain that element of surprise!