Friday, May 2, 2008
Reaching for the stars
I was pretty excited when I checked my stat counter the other night and saw this query: Never seen a Broadway show which one should I see?
Wow, no one's ever asked me that question before! Usually, it's more along the lines of: You're going back again? You're seeing how many shows this time? Haven't you already seen everything by now? The tickets cost how much?
To be fair, I also get some supportive, genuinely interested questions from people. They're excited for me and want to know what I'm seeing and who's in it. Even if they haven't heard of the actors, sometimes they've heard of the shows. South Pacific, for example, elicited lots of spontaneous breaking into song.
Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of which Broadway show you should see. (Or maybe fortunately, because when I think about it, there really are a lot of choices, more than most people would think. And choice is good.)
It depends on whether you want to see a play or a musical, (Ok, when people say a Broadway show, I guess we can pretty much assume they mean a musical.) whether you want to laugh or cry, - or both - whether you're in the mood for a classic or something more contemporary, whether you want something more traditional or you're willing to take a chance on a more adventurous experience, whether you're looking for Disney-type entertainment or a more adult-themed show.
One thing that Steve on Broadway, Vance at Tapeworthy and Chris at Everything I Know I Learned from Musicals do so well is give a clear indication of which shows they think are worthwhile. Steve rates everything he sees from zero to four stars, Vance uses a five-star ranking and Chris has a list of musicals you should see. In fact, this week Chris posted lists of the 100 greatest musicals of all time, the 100 runners-up, and his least-favorite shows, with links to information about all of them. It's a tremendous resource and I know I'll be going back to it frequently.
As for me, until this week, I didn't even have a list on my blog of all the shows that I've seen. Well, I put up the list, but short of reading through all of them, there's no quick and easy way to tell what I liked and what I didn't like. So, in an effort to provide a clear picture, I'm assigning star ratings to everything I've seen since January 2007.
When I'd only been to a couple of shows, it was hard to look at them objectively. I loved everything. But now that 18 months of fairly regular theatergoing have gone by, it's easier to put things in perspective. I still love mostly everything, and there's nothing I regret seeing. But I have to admit, I don't love LoveMusik as much as I thought I did. Although as Chris is always telling his Boston Conservatory students, you have to know what the bad stuff looks like to truly appreciate the good stuff. (Believe me, Chris, I'm learning!)
I've only been a professional critic once in my life. When I worked for a newspaper in Connecticut many years ago, I wrote a review of The Big Chill. After a colleague of mine read it, he had two observations: He couldn't figure out whether or not I actually liked the movie, and he said I gave away all of the best lines. I still struggle with those things: Have I said forcefully and clearly enough how much I liked the show? Have I given away too much of the plot or revealed the funniest lines?
I'm trying to reserve 4 stars for my absolute best experiences, 3.5 stars for shows that I loved but thought fell short of perfection, 3 stars for fun or thought-provoking shows that I enjoyed very much and would recommend, 2.5 stars for shows that provided some laughs or a performance or two I enjoyed, but overall, I simply felt kind of "blah" about them afterward, and 2 stars for shows that didn't engage me very much at all and were largely forgettable. Anything below that is reserved for major disappointments.
Assigning stars isn't an easy thing to do, but I want to give the shows I truly adored a little extra special love. Plus, it's kind of interesting to see, after 18 months, where I rank things. I could go on and on about what went into my decisions, but it's not exactly a scientific thing - it's totally my biased opinion at this point in time.
On another day, I might have done things differently. I'll try not to go back and change the stars when no one's looking, but I can't make any promises.