Theatre Reviews . . . the mere mention can bring dread or excitement to an actor/director or anyone involved in putting on a production. It’s like a first date, in some ways, and I’ve always had mixed feelings about it. Will they like me? Will I do something horribly stupid and they will think I am ALWAYS like that? AHHHHHHHHH!
But I’m getting ahead of myself . . .
We just opened our Summer Murder Mystery, “Justice at the Gold Dust,” and had the unique opportunity of having three different reviewers from three separate theatre critic sites attend the show on the same night. The actors were aware that critics were there, but did NOT know who they were. Actors (and writers/directors… let’s be honest) can take bad reviews really hard. Give us a good review and we are swinging on a star.
From my standpoint, as the director, there were things that didn’t go quite right and things that went really well. Interestingly enough, the biggest flaw that I saw wasn’t mentioned in any of the reviews (more on that later) but I felt that the audience enjoyed themselves.
Now, all the reviewers had valid opinions and I’m grateful for their hard work. We had some mistakes. In fact, I hear about them all the time (patrons, emails, friends, family) and unless there is a common theme, I tend to take it all with a grain of salt. Reviews, however, somehow have more weight. My reviews were interesting. They were in contrast with each other. In fact, I actually decided to write this article because of the three very different reviews of the exact same show.
I couldn’t pass up this unique opportunity to compare the reviews of the exact same show. It has been Zen-like and thought provoking. I hope that you find it of interest as well.
So without any more prep…
I’ve included links to all three here below. For the sake of clarity, the first link refers to what will be now called Review #1. The second link is to Review #2 and the third link is to Review #3.
Review #1 http://utahtheatrebloggers.com/15554/justice-at-the-gold-dust-sparkles-with-talent
Review #2 http://frontrowreviewersutah.com/?p=1287
Review #3 http://backstageutah.com/justice-at-the-gold-dust-the-wild-west-only-funnier/
What I am attempting to do here is to demonstrate (as the reviewers so helpfully provided) how three different people seeing the EXACT same show can have such different opinions. I’m hoping that this article will help put to rest the absolute agony of receiving a bad review and also to realize that a good review doesn’t mean perfection. This is written for the performers (whether you do Dinner Theatre or not).
First, let’s focus on the specific actors performances:
Review #1 – “The strongest performance out of the cast of six came from Tiffani Barney as Belle Mallory. Barney embraced the role of the young wife trapped in an unhappy marriage, and sparkled in her interactions with the other performers. She was especially charming in the card game and in her songs.”
“Some actors didn’t maintain a Western drawl for the entire show, and some of the acting (from Scott Stone, for example) felt too much like a presentation, and not enough like a traditional acting performance, for my tastes.”
Review #2 – “The Mayor’s unhappy wife, Belle Mallory, is played by Tiffani Barney. Her performance lacks depth and most of the time she’s onstage she just looks confused. Whether the blame belongs on the shoulders of the director or the actress is unknown.”
“The crooked Mayor – Duke Mallory – is played by Scott Stone. I really liked Scott’s voice and his portrayal of a statesman. Oftentimes, when the character is attempting diplomacy, he has the confident phony smile of a seasoned politician. Scott is also a joy to interact with during the portions of the show when the cast mingles with the audience.”
Review #3- Nothing specific about any of the actors acting but did mention that the vocals overall were adequate.
So, Scott and Tiffani were the best and worst… AT THE SAME TIME. Now, that is real talent…
Secondly, the food:
Review #1 – Nothing about the food.
Review #2 – The food is served banquet style and the idea is you have your food and have begun eating by the time the show begins in earnest. The food is what you’d expect from a steak house, albeit a bit on the cold side. It’s served with forks but no knives so I found it a bit hard to eat bone-in chicken breast with any class, but it is a steak house and the show is wild west themed so perhaps it’s meant to foster an even greater sense of cowboy chic.
Review #3 – Dinner was then served, classic BBQ – ribs, chicken, beans, corn, cornbread, and chocolate cake. It was good. Not great, but pretty good. Barbeque doesn’t leave a lot of leeway for clean eating or avoiding sugars, and there wasn’t a green thing in sight. I could have used a salad.
Thirdly, my script:
Review #1- I also thought that Murphy’s script was a little disjointed (such as the sudden shift of attention to Janet after the faceoff between Jesse and Zeke), but she also effectively made the mystery solvable, but not obvious, given the number of red herrings in the story. Murphy also established an effective Old West atmosphere (with the help ofJeremy Tritchler‘s set), which made it easier for me to throw myself into the experience ofJustice at the Gold Dust.
Review #2- The weariness of this production may have been due to the script, which seems to be constructed over a thin veneer of tired wild west tropes – the lusty barmaid, the crooked mayor, the ingénue, the tomboy, the leading man, and the town drunk are all present.
(Authors note… but you can now immediately see them in your head… can’t you? Check out my article called “It is what it is.”
For the most part the acting is flat and the pacing is off. I attribute these faults to the director. With a cast of only six the ensemble seems perfectly capable of keeping the show together, but the timing is all wrong and the show really drags. There are also multiple holes in the plot – one of which involves Rose Doolan’s husband dying of black lung when he worked in a gold mine, not a coal mine.
(This has taught me that I need to make sure that my actors are getting ALL of the information out during mingling… for instance, gold mines don’t just produce gold. Black lung is produced by prolonged breathing of mine dust, no matter what is mined. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/health/2010-01/27/c_13153187.htm)
Review #3- The magic of a melodrama is in the ridiculousness of it. I couldn’t decide if they really wanted it to be a melodrama, or a legitimate theatrical piece. The jokes were fine, but it seemed like cast members were unsure if they would play and didn’t want to invest too much in case they fell flat, which is the fastest way to kill a moment. You have to believe it, deliver it, trust it, and if it seems iffy, you make it bigger. It’s the silliness that makes it work. There can be no hesitation. That being said, it was opening night. Hopefully, as they come to know their characters better, without thinking about it, they will find those places where the comedy is so stupid, it’s hilarious.
(As I sit in the back thinking… wait… what did he just say? I did NOT write that… )
Next, the music:
Review #1- As strong as these performances are, the highlight of the show was the songs, written by Jeff Parkes. I was quite surprised that the songs were so catchy; Parkes shows an excellent sense of character in his songs, none of which felt clichéd or pedantic. I genuinely think that Parkes has the talent to write a full-length musical.
Review #2- The show begins with a lackluster musical number and maintains the same monotonous pace throughout.
Review #3- The songs were fine, but occasionally felt stiff.
(This is where I will insert my two-bits…on that night, two of my actors just couldn’t find their note on one very noticeable part. We figured out why and fixed it but I was amazed that not ONE of the reviewers mentioned it.)
Finally, the overall enjoyment:
Review #1-Justice at the Gold Dustis a nice night of entertainment, and this type of show—with its strong audience participation component and a dinner—could be great for the first time audience members. The plot is accessible, the actors are fun to interact with, and the play shatters popular conceptions about theatre being boring or stodgy.
Review #2 – The program informs the audience “The town of Silvercrest has dried up along with its gold mine. You are traveling through on your way to greener pastures and have stopped at the local watering hole to rest your weary boots.” The performance, much like the town of Silvercrest, is dried up.
Review #3 – I, being an actor, director, costumer, etc., tend to expect a lot from productions. It’s hard not to nit-pick or think of how I would do it differently. Plus, it is my job to be a critic. So for an unbiased point of view, I quizzed my date who just wanted to be entertained. He saw far fewer flaws than I did. He found it amusing, thought the acting was well done, enjoyed and embraced the corniness, and was completely interested in exploring the clues, interviewing the characters, and discovering who the murderer was. Simply put, it was fun. He danced on stage, bantered with the actors, and declared it a success. Justice At The Gold Dust, and probably any of Poison Ivy Mysteries productions, would make for a charming date, unique birthday party, and excellent entertainment for a family reunion or company party.
To sum it up, let’s turn to my brother, Jeff.
So the reviews are basically:
1) This is the best show EVER!!!!!
2) Everything sucked and I was cold! (Read full review for explanation)
3) I just wanted a salad. And I guess my date liked it.
And as for me, I’m living the DREAM! Are you?