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The role of the traditional theater critic has significantly evolved over the last decade. While there are some individuals who heavily rely on critical reviews prior to venturing out to sample a new Broadway production, many others have strayed from the traditional critic route to a more informal one. This brings up the obvious question of whether or not traditional critic reviews have a major impact on Broadway productions or if these reviews are becoming more obsolete as each day passes?
One of the major reasons there has been such a major decline in American drama criticism is the downfall of the newspaper industry. Today, there is only one daily broadsheet in New York, The New York Times. Serving as companions are The New York Post and The Daily News. This decrease in the newspaper industry (modeled nationwide) means audiences are exposed to a much smaller pool of critics to seek information from when inquiring about a particular show.
Tom, an expert in the Broadway category at YoExpert.com, also noted that the most well-known and sometimes feared Broadway critics are no longer working in the field. He says in his article, “As for The Great White Way’s ink slingers today, “Mr. First Nighter” seems to have gone the way of niteries like the Stork Club and neckties at “21.” Frank Rich, the New York Times’ so-called butcher of Broadway, fled reviewing for the op-ed pages in 1994, and John Simon probably the most hated critic of all time, was axed by New York magazine without warning in 2005.”
This lack of newspapers from which to consult and the lack of respected critics to turn to has left a void that modern technology seems to have filled. Dom, the editor of SeatPlan.co.uk shared, “With the internet and blogs becoming so readily available to anyone regardless of who they are or where they work there is current thought that the role of the theatre reviewer is fading, and may become obsolete in the very near future. The role of the reviewer has changed ever since the explosion of the internet, as rather than opinion being held by an ‘elite’ few, literally anyone can publish their thoughts and make them available for the world to see.”
What does this mean? That people are turning away from tradition media and starting to seek the opinions of everyday audience members like themselves. Who better to trust than a regular person just like you? Especially since it seems that, to the average viewer, the nuisances that critics nitpick are trivial and not a major part of the decision making process when narrowing down a show to take in on a Friday night.
However, supporters of traditional critic reviews such as BroadwayWorld.com message board contributor Up In One point to the value of such reviews found in The NY Times, The Associated Press, Time Magazine, NY Daily News, NY Post, and Newsday. He states, “A show needs to hang around long enough for the tourists to catch wise so the early months depend on the locals and fanatics like us, so the reviews are important to get the show established.”
Yet other people point to the idea that the public holds a more valuable role than critics in determining the failure or success of a show. Members of the BroadwayWorld.com message board world voiced their opinions on the matter. WickedGinger said, “Surely the biggest critic is the paying public??? Bad ticket sales then no show… Good ticket sales then guaranteed the show will have a long run.” Sutton Ross expanded on that idea adding, “I don’t really think critics matter for the most part. People see a show, then talk to their friends and family about it. If it’s good, they see the show, they tell people, etc. When someone wants to see a show because they liked the book, movie, or a particular performer, no critic will prevent that from happening.”
Also supporting the concept that critics are not as significant these days as they previously were is the success of shows that have received negative critical reviews and the failure of shows that have received relatively positive critic reviews. Dom of SeatPlan.co.uk breaks this down in his article uses the example of the West End transfer of Sondheim’s 1981 musical Merrily We Roll Along. The show developed a loyal following and many expected it would succeed when it made the move from the South London venue to the Harold Pinter Theatre. Yet despite positive reviews and the accolade of having received the most 5 star reviews of any other West End musical to date, the show struggled to attract viewers and resorted to discounting tickets to try to sell seats.
Be that as it may, there are some die hard theatre fans that will always vouch for the value that critic reviews offer. At the very same time, there is a more modern crowd who almost fail to care that critic reviews exist and prefer alternative methods of obtaining opinions about Broadway productions such as their friends on Twitter and Facebook. As technology enhances and younger generations of theater viewers start to come about, it is likely that traditional critics could vanish and become an obsolete thing of the past. Lets hope that for those individuals who still rely on this model for information, the phasing out doesn’t happen any time soon.
Author: Diamond Grant