A Review of Reviews

Everything I need to know I learned from Patti. Image via Last.fm.

This post was originally going to be my review of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of The King and I (which was phenomenal, FYI). But as I mulled it over and thought about the show, I started thinking: what could I possibly add to this conversation?

The King and I was first performed on Broadway in 1951. Clearly, over the last 65 years, if there were any imperfections in the show, they’ve been smoothed out. The Rodgers & Hammerstein score is still brilliant and has stood the test of time, and Anna Leonowens is still one of the strongest female characters in theatre. (Side note: this show passes the Bechdel test, why can’t shows being written now pass it too?)

So what’s left to say? The cast (led by Kate Baldwin and Paolo Montalban, no relation to Ricardo) was incredible, the Civic Opera House is gorgeous (see my Insta), and the show was a wonderful time. But I can’t add more to this conversation. The King and I is an amazing show.

I’d like to think that when I provide a review, I help someone who reads it attend or, at the very least, learn about a show they wouldn’t otherwise attend. Or maybe I’m spreading the word about a new, local show. But with this tried-and-true classic, I don’t think I can add anything.

I’ve been reading up on theatre greats, including Patti LuPone’s memoir (Patti LuPone: A Memoir) and an essay by Sondheim in his second collection of lyrics, Look, I Made a Hat. Both of them talk a lot about reviewers and critics, and it’s important to me that I’m very conscious about what I say. As I learned in Patti’s memoir, a bad review can break your performance (or your contract, in the case of Sunset Boulevard.) And if Patti had listened to critics, she probably would have broken down and never would have gotten to play some of her best roles yet – like Mama Rose in Gypsy, for which she earned her second Tony.

I read today that Sheridan Smith – currently starring in Funny Girl in London – is missing shows because she didn’t win a BAFTA and people on Twitter are burning her for it. It’s awful she feels this way, but at the same time, the show must go on. What would Patti do?

If I criticize a show, I’m going to first ask myself: Is this necessary to say? Was it actually distracting from the show? Or am I being unreasonably cruel?

So get ready for lots of reviews this summer from amazing local production houses and the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. I’m definitely not going to stop reviewing, but I certainly can’t review everything. After all, what’s the point in going to theatre if I can’t have some fun?


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