The revival of The Front Page revives the deadline.
Charles Isherwood jinxed it.
During my podcast with The New York Times Critic, I asked him whether he thought we would ever go back to the good ol’ days when Critics actually reviewed opening night performances, instead of coming to a preview several days ahead of their review-filing deadline.
His answer was a definitive “No, that’s not happening, for any number of reasons.”
And then Scott Rudin happened.
A few weeks ago, Mr. Rudin announced that for his revival of The Front Page, Critics would not be invited to a preview performance, and instead they would all be asked to come on opening night. They’ll be forced to review that performance, which means they’ll have just a wee bit of time to file their review if they want it in the “paper” the next day. More importantly, they’ll be rushing to be the first review to appear online (the first one usually gets a bit of a traffic boost).
Of course, nothing is stopping any of the Critics from buying a ticket to any performance and just writing their review in advance (and maybe going to the opening prepared to make a few last minute changes in case someone’s wig falls off, etc.).
As you can imagine, this has caused quite a ruckus in the critical community. Of course, Critics writing their review on opening night was always Broadway S.O.P., until the Critics made the very valid argument that they could write better reviews if they had more time to think about the show, consult the script, etc., and started asking to come early. (Although I have a feeling that the real reason Producers and Press Agents started granting the request was not because they thought the reviews would be better, but rather no one wants to say no to a Critic . . . just in case.)
The flip side argument was best given by Ken Billington, Tony-Award winning Lighting Designer, who gave one of the best “Genie” answers on my podcast, when he said he longed for the days when Critics had to review shows on opening night. He said that kind of energy in the room on opening night, when you knew the show was “on the line” made the performance more special, and, well, more dramatic (the other reason to revert to the old way is that it just gives the show another couple of shows to get it all right). Listen to that answer here.
So, will this become a trend? Should it?
Well, first, what I love about what Scott has done is that he’s reviving a policy from the old days of Press . . . for a show that’s about the old days of Press. It’s the perfect type of marketing initiative, where the idea matches the art.
All of us need to remember, there are a million ways to get attention for shows or products . . . but the best publicity and marketing angles are the ones that merge with the mission and tone of the piece.
The Front Page is a play about deadlines . . . so let’s give everyone deadlines.
And I think Mr. Billington is right . . . it should make for a more energized and interesting evening tonight. (I am a bit jealous that Scott got to this first. After hearing Ken’s answer on that podcast, I’ve had this idea on my list of marketing “stunts” to pull when I had the right show.)
But, as Isherwood said, I don’t see this becoming the norm. In fact, I’d be surprised if Mr. Rudin ever did it again. It just made such sense for this show.
If we did try to revert to this policy, I think we’d see a lot of reviewers just going early anyway . . . and getting back at us by posting their reviews early.
But you can bet I’ll be watching those reviews tonight to see if they read any differently (and how many reviewers mention it as they write).
(And if you want to make sure you are the first to find out if The New York Times review is good/so-so/or you-know-what, then get this app, which will notify you the moment the review is out!)
What do you think? Should reviewers be forced to come to opening night? Or should we allow them to come early? If you were the Producer of a new Broadway show, what would you do???
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