If we know reviews aren’t as powerful as they used to be, then why . . .

If ever there was a Fall that demonstrated the lack of a correlation between a rave and a run, this was the one.

Both Finian’s Rainbow and Ragtime, two of the Best Reviewed Shows of 2009, are folding way earlier than anyone predicted the morning after their opening, when their reviews were the talk of the town.

(Funny side-story, but I overheard two women talking about Ragtime on the subway, and both were talking about how wonderful a show it was – they had seen the original.  They had both heard the new production was fabulous and both wanted to see it.  Then one of the women said, “But you know, you can’t get a ticket. It’s the hottest ticket in town.”  That’s where I jumped in.  When I asked where she heard that it was a hard-to-get ticket, she told me she had read a review.  She equated a rave with an impossible-to-get ticket.  You can bet I corrected her, and told her to buy a ticket that day . . . and then, after Ragtime, I told her to see Altar Boyz, but you probably guessed that already.)

There is no longer any doubt that sensational reviews are no guarantee of a run or of recoupment, especially for musicals (although, I think plays are catching up . . . notice The Norman Conquests, Mary Stuart and even Godot on that Best Reviewed list).

Ok, ok, I know what you are all saying, “Ken, we know all this.  This ain’t our first barbeque.”

I know, I know, but let’s extrapolate this theory, and apply it to pre-producing.

If we know reviews aren’t as powerful as they used to be, then why do so many of us use them to decide if we want to transfer a show from Off-Broadway to Broadway, or from Out-Of-Town to Broadway???

I can’t tell you how many times over the last year I’ve heard people say that they were getting involved in a show solely because its out-of-town tryout, or its regional tryout, or because its Off-Broadway production got a rave.  Another side-story – recently I asked one Broadway Producer what they were working on next, and they said,

“Well, it looks like we’re going to move XXXXXX.”

I was a bit surprised.  “Really,”  I said.  “Wow.”

“Yep.  I mean, with the review we got, we sort of have to.”

No, you don’t.  And you shouldn’t.

Tell me you want to get involved with a show because the audience is going crazy for it.  Tell me you want to get involved with a show because you think the Author’s message is important.  Or tell me you want to get involved with a show purely based on your gut.

Or better, tell me it’s ALL of those things (you wouldn’t buy a stock just based on its price, or just based on its p/e.  You buy because of a combo of its charactertistics).

But don’t tell me you’re doing it because it got a good review.

Because reviews are like wrapping paper.  They make things look pretty, but they don’t last long.

It’s what’s inside the paper that counts.

  • Joseph ERm says:

    Funny. We just did a whole study on this issue. Reviews may make people take a closer look but they don’t get consumers to part with dollars.

  • Emkay says:

    I worked on a show that started Off Off and got a great review from The Times. Based on that they decided to move it to Off Broadway. The same reviewer came back to see it in its Off Broadway home and was completely negative. Show closes and everyone goes home unhappy. They could have stayed Off Off basking in the glow of the great notices and used their success there to make the next project more successful.

  • Chad Bauman says:

    Great post Ken

  • Mark Brown says:

    If this post gets a good review I’m going to repost it.

  • Jason Epperson says:

    I think good reviews don’t have much power anymore, they’re a piece of the puzzle for shure, but they won’t make a show, however, bad reviews are certainly very powerful and can break a show. So maybe we should stop inviting the press :).

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