Should the critics have reviewed Spiderman?

I don’t know about what happened at your home, but as soon as that first review of Spider-Man hit the ‘web’ Monday night, my phone started ringing, my twitter started tweeting, and things I didn’t even know I owned started buzzing.

It was a social media cyclone.

And unfortunately for Spider-Man, that cyclone did some serious damage.

But the big question on everyone’s tweets was not how a $65 million dollar musical got such bad reviews, but should the critics have thrown their stones now, or should they have waited?

There has always been a gentleman’s agreement in the theater that reviewers don’t come until they are invited.  And that agreement has held up over the years, except for a few instances, mostly involving high profile out-of-town productions.

But not this time.

Why?

Well, come on Spider-Man, you’ve got super-human powers.  Surely, you had to see this coming.  You’ve been in previews longer than it takes an actual spider to spin a web.  Did you expect them to wait much longer?  Especially with rumors circulating that you were never going to open, and especially since the business you were doing didn’t seem to incentivize you to open any sooner.  When you’re doing 1.2+ million, who cares if you’re open or not, right?

Well, the critics do.

And Monday, they had enough.

And I can’t blame them.

I give them a lot of credit, actually.  Instead of just a free-for-all of reviews starting to come out randomly, they obviously got together and orchestrated this release together.  It was a calculated strike (which is the kind that does the most damage).  And the reviews came the day after the show was last supposed to open, which is a logical, rational, and defensible date to use.

So, good for them.

If I was a Producer, I might not like it, but I had to expect it (and evident by the typical post-opening radio spots and other media that ran this morning, these Producers did expect it).

All that said, you know what the real question I was asking after I read the reviews?

It wasn’t how a $65 million dollar musical could get such bad reviews.

It wasn’t whether or not they should have been reviewed it or not.

It was, “Will the reviews matter?”

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The right to vote . . . restored! Kind of.

Last week, a compromise was reached between the Tony Awards and the critical press after almost a year of a very public and tense standoff.

Here’s what happened:

On July 14, 2009, the Tonys sent all the reviewers on the “First Night Press List” (those who are invited to see shows on opening night or before) a letter saying that their Tony voter status had been revoked.  An excerpt from the letter stated the following reasons for the change:

 

Please note that this change in no way affects your inclusion on the First Night Press List. As you know, a committee of Broadway press agents develops and administers the First Night Press List, and it does not fall under the purview of Tony Award Productions, The Broadway League, or the American Theatre Wing.

In making this decision, the Tony Management Committee took into account that members of the First Night Press List will of course continue to have the opportunity to express their critical opinions in reviews and other coverage of the theatre season. In addition, the Management Committee took into consideration the fact that certain publications and individual critics have historically pursued a policy of abstaining from voting on entertainment awards in general, to avoid any possible conflicts of interest in fulfilling their primary responsibilities as journalists.”

Ok. Makes sense.  If the Tony Awards don’t control the list, you can see why they might be concerned about who is able to cast a ballot.  Can you imagine a co-op board allowing someone to vote for a building amendment if they didn’t have a say in who was living in the building?  

But, you can without a doubt see the side of the critics who jumped up and down concerned about the lack of the critical voice in the block of voters.  

All in all, about 100 people’s privileges were revoked.  And a lot of those 100 people were very vocal about their displeasure.  

Last week, the Tonys listened.

It was announced on March 25, 2010, less than two months before voting begins, that members of the Drama Critics’ Circle, a group that has been around since 1935, a group that has membership guidelines, structure, meetings, executive leadership and their own awards, will be allowed to cast a vote for the Tony Awards.

While this will still leave several of those first nighters without a vote, I think this was a wonderful compromise that allows the Tonys to establish more of a structure to the body of voters, while ensuring that this body is made up of the most diverse group of contributors to our unique world.  

Critics have a place in this world.  And they should have a vote.  I’m now thankful that they do.

Oh, by the way, I would have linked to the Variety article about this subject . . . but they’ve put their stories behind a e-wall now.  I wonder how that’s gonna work out for them. Here’s a Theatermania article instead.

To read more about the Drama Critics’ Circle, click here.

Critic-al about the revolution.

The aristocracy of theatrical society, our critics, have lost five of their members over the last five months, and that’s got them a little nervous and a little peeved, as this article from Variety states.

While word of mouth has always been the #1 reason why people buy tickets, online media and the internet in general (including the billions of people in the blogosphere), have sped up the spreading of that word like milk of magnesia speeds up you know what.

So what has happened?  Just like in revolutionary France or revolutionary anywhere . . . the people have grown tired of listening to the privileged few, so they’re taking the power for themselves and away from those who thought they were safe in their manors.

Unfortunately, manors aren’t much when they are built out of ‘papers’.

It’s a bit surprising that they’re so critical of what’s happening.  I would bet that most critics are pretty liberal ladies and gents, and it seems that how shows rise to the surface is becoming more democratic.

Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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