|Love Never Dies|
The 'Phans' Never Lie
Date: 12 March 2010
During the interval of the first preview of Andrew Lloyd Webber's sequel to Phantom of the Opera - Love Never Dies, theatre message boards all over the world were lit up with people posting their thoughts and reviews about the first act from their phones, PDAs etc.
Eager theatre lovers sat by their laptops waiting for these audience reviews to pop up and by midnight that same night I counted over 13 reviews from audience members and a tweet from a member of staff at the stage doing the circuit around What’s On Stage, Broadway World and Dress Circle message boards amongst others.
During all of this a discussion was raised on a theatre site about ‘is it fair to post any kinda reviews of shows when they are in previews?’ Many responded with varied thoughts and opinions and I decided this would make for a great blog.
Its been standard practice since theatre began that critics would not write a review of the show until they are invited by the producers, this is normally during the last few previews or on the actual opening night. You see new shows need those few weeks to be able to iron out any issues, fix the problems and add and remove things from the show. In fact the chances are that if you attend a first preview and then return to watch the show once it's officially opened you will notice many changes.
Critics have nearly always stuck to this rule, with a few exceptions, a few times shows have stayed in previews for so long (normally because they know the show is bad so try to make as much money as they can during previews) that a few critics broke the unwritten rule and reviewed the shows before their opening nights, but this is rare, we all know we write and publish our reviews when the company say so.
Theatregoers would never hear about how a play or musical was doing until they read the reviews in the papers or they heard word of mouth from a friend, but with the technology available today the word can be out on a show in a matter of seconds after the curtain falls on its first public performance, and with audience members being far more passionate about the art form today, their reviews are more often than not a true indicator.
When the musicals Good Vibrations, Glory Days and Dance of the Vampires opened on Broadway, or Too Close to the Sun and Gone with the Wind here in the UK audience members spread the word that the shows were turkeys straight after the first previews, when the shows did finally open attendance had already fallen and the official reviews turned out to be as negative as the word of mouth. Some producers have claimed that the word of mouth from theatre fans attending previews are killing their shows, that they should have more time to be able to fix the shows and make the changes before the public start talking.
However as much as the producers and the marketing teams of these shows may want the chatting to stop, it’s wishful thinking. You will never stop theatre fans talking about what they have seen regardless of whether it’s in previews or after opening night, and they also should not have to.
You see the bottom line is that the producers are happy to charge full price or close to full price for tickets for their shows during the preview period, it’s a piece of theatre that’s playing to a paying audience, they obviously feel that the show is in a decent enough state to move it from pre production to previews in the first place. So by opening it up to the public, they will obviously talk (or tweet!).
Like anything, people have the choice of weather to read the preview reviews or not, if you can’t wait to hear about how the first performance went of a show your looking forward to seeing and you read bad comments, you can’t then complain that the poster of that review or comment was wrong for posting at all.
I have to say as a critic and as a playwright I don’t find anything wrong with audience members talking about the shows during the previews. A confident Writer, Producer or Director would have nothing to worry about, if you have a tight show that is playing well then the early buzz from preview audiences is going to do you a huge favour and add money on to your box office. I for one have read preview comments for shows and booked based on those opinions.
It seems the only people who are unhappy with the shows receiving word of mouth through message boards, Twitter etc. are the ones who know they have a bad show on their hands. As long as official critics respect the review date then I see nothing wrong.
As I write this the Addams Family will be entering its preview period on Broadway after receiving mixed reviews from out of town and the message boards are again lit up with reviews of its first preview, and after all the chatter about Love Never Dies it has been fun to see what the major critics have said. I for one will be right by my laptop and on the message board‘s waiting for news on both over the next few months.
- Craig Hepworth
Any opinions expressed above do not represent the view of Whatsonstage.com nor any of its staff or contributors beyond the bylined author.
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