Sunday, February 13, 2011

metaDRAMA: You Can't Swing Both Ways

"Visually enchanting . . . dazzling" - New York Post
"Bono and The Edge have contributed stellar songs. SPECTACULAR!" - New Jersey Star-Ledger 
"Succeeds thunderously! I was riveted." - New York Magazine

So, let me get this straight. The producers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark complained about critics reviewing a show that was still in previews. And yet they've decided to run a commercial for the show that cherry picks pull-quotes from those reviews? (I'll grant that the ad does at least mention that the show is currently "Now in previews on Broadway," which is a step up for them.)

Of particular note is that they used a review from the New Jersey Star-Ledger, one of the first newspapers to break the so-called embargo way back on January 18th (after, I believe, Linda Wiener and Jesse Oxfield for Newsday and The New York Observer) and which was written by Jay Lustig, who isn't even their drama critic. (He's a pop-music editor.) And while this is far from the most egregious "excerpting" of quotes, it's worth noting that "spectacular" was used (in lowercase) in the following context: "The stunts were spectacular." As for the rest of his quote, it originally read "Bono and the Edge have contributed some stellar ballads -- songs that evoke the yearning grandeur of U2 -- though their more upbeat material tended to be nondescript, and the sound mix throughout the show could have been crisper." I can understand why they changed this bit: even a professional pop-music critic knocked most of the songs.

Ever since I started aggregating reviews for StageGrade, where Spider-Man currently holds an F+ with critics (after 18 reviews) and a D from the community (after 6 reviews), I've become more sensitive to accurately quoting critics and remaining true to their overall context, so while you can read the rest of the reviews here, I will note the Post's far more accurate take: "This erratic musical constantly seesaw[s] between the galvanizing and the lame." And I will give New York's Scott Brown, increasingly my favorite critic, the full measure of his context: "Yet even in the depths of Spider-man's certifiably insane second act, I was riveted." (To be honest, that description -- the honesty, and the sense of the overwhelming it implies -- makes me want to see the show far more than their generically edited nonsense.)

I hesitate to draw a conclusion from all of this, but it certainly suggests that the embargo's days are numbered. After all, a main reason for inviting critics to your show in the first place is in order to pull-quote them, and if they're able to come up with stuff like this even from a show this abysmally rated, why not just get the critics in early so that you can spread out their reviews (to minimize impact) and spend more time distorting their language? At the very least, let this double-faced complaining -- "We don't want your reviews! But we'll use them!" -- make it a little clearer to audiences that producers, by and large, don't care about you. Let's admit that the Spider-Man swag they're giving away to so-called "focus groups" is essentially hush money (and additional advertising); after all, if Spider-Man closes, they're not going to be able to sell that merchandise. You can't "turn off" the dark, fellows; and you can't swing both ways.

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