Monday, October 11, 2010

Nervous Breakdown: Was On The Verge Too Soon?

Nervous Breakdown: Was On The Verge Too Soon?

Last Friday, the highly-anticipated musical version of Pedro Almodóvar's Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown finally began previews at Broadway's Belasco Theatre.

Initially, the Bartlett Sher-helmed tuner was to have commenced previews on October 2. Then the start date was pushed back to October 5. It was less than two weeks ago that the production announced its second delay when Sher cited the “enormous, complex undertaking” involved in ensuring every aspect of the production came together by the time the first curtain went up on the show.

Well, so much for that. In attendance for this past weekend's earliest previews were two bloggers, The Broadway Critic and Family Circle.

The Broadway Critic caught the very first preview, which inadvertently became the very first run through of the musical in its entirety. The blogger noted how Sher asked the audience for "love, kindness and to come back to see the show.” But so infuriated was The Broadway Critic by the end of the evening that he called the show "a disaster" and said he wanted his money back.

On the flip side, Family Circle saw the show Saturday evening and noted that despite all the kinks that still must be worked out, the show was deemed as "already very much on solid ground." Family Circle summed up the post by stating, "Yes, the production has issues, but it holds significant potential.  Give Women a month and I am confident that this will be the musical to beat this season."

Although The Broadway Critic most definitely saw the glass as being half-empty to Family Circle's half-full -- and one has to wonder if any significant improvement occurred from the first night to the second -- the fact that either of them wrote passionately about their experiences (remember, this musical began previews on Broadway without the benefit of enough technical rehearsal time, let alone no out-of-town tryout) speaks volumes about how rapidly good and bad word-of-mouth can spread in the age of social networking. When anyone with a platform can buy a ticket for a preview, he or she can do considerably more damage from their soap box than producers ever dreamed possible just a decade ago.

Of course, had Sher and company pushed back the first previews any more, the move would be been met by two consequences. First, a third push back would have signalled -- rightly or wrongly -- that the show was beset with issues; in other words, the show may have been perceived as being in trouble. Second, given how well the advance box office for Women On The Verge is doing (it's one of this season's toughest tickets already), the production would have had to deal with a couple thousand angry ticket holders who would not be so easily reaccommodated anytime soon.

What would my take have been had I been in that first preview audience?

Certainly, there's a part of me that would have wanted to post my account of what occurred, and I can't fault either of the two bloggers for sharing theirs. However, in the end, I think I would have resisted by instead thinking how only in live theatre are you accorded the rarest of rare opportunities to see a blooming production, thorns and all, as it is just beginning to unfold.

But I readily admit that I'm the exception to the rule -- something producers must consider before allowing any show to start previews before they're absolutely ready for their paying public.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

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At 11 October, 2010, Anonymous Timothy Childs said...

It is indeed a mixed bag to have previews in the age of social networking. Of course, good buzz can increase sales and bad word of mouth can stop some theatergoers from buying tickets, but we also have to keep in mind that adage that all PR is good PR, and just because a blogger rails against a production, s/he isn't necessarily detracting from that show's sales.

Sometimes, however, I do find myself wishing bloggers would follow the journalist rule of waiting to post reviews until a show opens.

- Timothy Childs

At 11 October, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

It's because of your last point that I personally refrain from writing my reviews of shows until after they've opened, but additionally, I would not nor could not judge a show strictly based on its first preview(s).

At 11 October, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eric in Atlanta says...

I wish every blogger/"non-professional" critic/avid-theatergoer-with-no-training-as-a-critic would adhere to your standards, Steve, dear. Preview critiques so often come off as the basest of gossip-mongering.

Putting on a show is hard. Folks should lighten up.

At 11 October, 2010, Anonymous Lane Beauchamp said...

I think it's important that both bloggers noted they weren't "reviewing" the show. They were sharing their experience - which even for previews was rather exceptional.

That said, when producers charge full price for a ticket - even if the show's in "previews" - it's fair for anyone in that audience to have an expectation that the cast has, at least, run through the full show once.

Word-of-mouth is the single largest influencer when people purchase tickets (according to The Broadway League) ... and I'm glad to know that I shouldn't spend money quite yet on this one.

I did love that both of these theater-lovers ended their blogs by suggesting everyone wait a month - but still see the show!

At 12 October, 2010, Blogger Vance said...

If I'm coming from out of town, and happen to buy a ticket to a show, preview or not, I think as a blogger, I'm entitled to speak about my experience of seeing the show. It's a blog. A web log. It is not something I'm paid to do, it is my own journal of whatever I want to write about (and in my case, whatever entertainment I happen to see).
If I was invited, I would adhere to the journalist rule and wait.
That's why producers need to be very careful of opening dates and previews they've scheduled out. Yes it's an artform but it's a business and if they're making no concessions in prices during previews, why should audiences?

That said, I'm excited for Women but I purposely bought tickets for AFTER opening (though it also worked out best in my schedule. And if it happened to only work out for early previews, then so be it)

At 12 October, 2010, Anonymous Gil said...

There is something to be said about how producers beta-test their work on full-price customers. I've taken another point on the whole matter--I don't see shows until the last 7 days of previews, when it's pretty much locked in. If I'm going to see a show only once, I might as well pay my fare while seeing it in good shape.

At 13 October, 2010, Anonymous Julie @ said...

Steve, I'm seeing the show tonight and as a blogger with a healthy social media platform from which to share the good, bad and ugly, I will stay mum. Out of respect and my desire to encourage more original works, I'm with you. Cheers, Julie

At 13 October, 2010, OpenID broadwaycritic said...

Today, I updated my readers in regards to my awful seats, and my reaction to all of the buzz.

Look, if I was given free press tickets to review the show, then I would be happy to wait to post my "review" (even though my Verge post was not my "official" review).

But, considering I spent $232 to bring my wife and I to see this show, I felt obligated to let my readers know that they should wait to buy a ticket until after it opens. That's all. Right now, the show is a hot mess. I'm sure it will get better and that's the reason why you should wait.

And as I asked in my post: If we (bloggers) have so much “power”, than why doesn’t the Broadway community embrace the theatre blogger community more readily?

Instead of spitting on us and calling us "non-professional" writers, engage us and let us be a part of the process. The music industry has changed; I'm just waiting on the theatre community.

Spencer (The Broadway Critic)

At 16 October, 2010, Blogger Vance said...

My question to Julie and Steve is, if you see a preview performance, do you now stay mum about it forever? Because what you saw may be different then opening night. Producers want opening night (or now, the show closest to it) as the one to "review" so if you go by that standard, any preview show seen should not be spoken of at all in a public forum.

At 16 October, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Vance, if you are paying for the ticket, you can write whatever and whenever you want. That's the risk producers must take in previewing shows that aren't ready for prime time.

Having said that, the only early preview I've ever seen for a show is one I never wrote about because I recognized how the show could change by the time it opened. And as for all previews being off limits, there's usually a week or so of press previews available to the mainstream critics before the show officially opens. If the critics can write about those, then so can I (but I wait to post until the show opens).


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