Does the critic mean box office success?

It will be very interesting over the next few weeks to see if the musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous breakdown will charge at the box office in New York.

It will be very interesting over the next few weeks to see if the musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous breakdown will charge at the box office in New York.

This is a show that opened with a big advance and a lot of attention, partly as it is based on a Pedro Almodovar movie of some strong cult success and partly because it has a strong cast of leading broadway women lead by Patti Lu Pone and Sheri Reni Scott.

Yet the show opened to universal pans from all critics! Not just mixed reviews and a few raves, every single critic basically gave it the worst reviews possible. I know a theatre friend who saw it last week and proclaimed it “ghastly, a waste of money”.

In the not too distant past if a show opened on Broadway with this sort of negative reaction, it would probably close within a few days, but there are a couple of reasons why this show will run. Firstly, the advance, always a buffer for the first months of the season of an expensive musical, secondly the women involved have  large followings, their fans will still want to see the show. Thirdly, and most curiously, the question arises, does the word of the critic really matter to the theatre going public anymore?

When The Addams Family opened on Broadway, the critics were also universally damning. Yet that show played to sold out crowds for months and is still running (I do wonder for how much longer after Nathan Lane leaves shortly). The same thing could happen to the Women on the Verge…

Yet I dont totally hold with the view that critics dont matter anymore. Sure, a critic probably can’t close a show over night anymore, but do shows that are greeted with mixed to poor reviews run very long? Some would say Wicked is the living proof that they can! Yet that magical musical is something of an exception and it didn’t open to univeral pans, the NYTimes didn’t like it much, but ended up giving it a mixed review, it still had its fair share of raves.

When a show is generally trounced, its lifespan is limited. Nine to Five was a big favourite with audiences for a period, but the poor reviews saw that the show didn’t run long enough to turn a profit. I believe it’s a bit of a case of horses for courses.

In Australia, we see this sort of thing played out on a much smaller scale. Commercially, the word of the critic just doesn’t carry as much weight and for very good reason. Most big commercial (usually musical) productions get pretty blanket positive reviews from most critics. We just don’t have the level of knowledge these days (we used to!) amongst mainstream press critics and their lack of knowledge of the musical shows up all the time in their reviews.

One notable exception was the beautifully written highly praising rave given by The Age for Mary Poppins in Melbourne. This superbly knowledgable and articulate review I am sure helped turn that show from a hit into something quite extraordinary (nary an empty seat, they will need to pry that show out of Her Majestys to Sydney in March with a hook it has been so successful!!)

Here was an example of a critic not just raving, but expressing his admiration of the show with knowledge and articulately written prose- a rarity in this day and age. The public took notice, and booked and booked and booked.

Also in reverse, the poor reviews for Fame recently in Sydney (after it having a pretty easy ride with the press elsewhere) did that show no favours. It is closing early after a patchy run.

So agree or disagree that the critic still has power there are certainly examples for and against, but thank God we still have them, now lets advocate for some better ones in Australia, that could make a lot of difference. !!

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