Review Philosophy

This is not a review, per se, but it is a commentary indirectly inspired by a production that opened yesterday.

The Whole Backstage Theatre, in Guntersville, is producing the kid’s show Annie Jr. this weekend.  For those that don’t know, the “Jr” suite of shows, by Music Theatre International, are shortened versions (roughly 60 minutes) of kid-friendly stories (a lot of Disney movie adaptations, for example), designed from the top-down to be performed by youth. For ticket information and show times, click the link at the top of this paragraph.

I suspect the majority of my growing readership are still the members of the theatre community, rather than the general public, so I’m going to direct this post to the theatre folks.

Even though Annie, Jr is being produced by a community theatre, rather than a school, I will not be publishing a review of the show, for the same reason I won’t review school shows.   I just don’t want to open that can of worms–critiquing little Mary Sue’s stage presence just does not go over well.  If I have even the slightest negative thing to say, it would just open the floodgates of angry parental emails, and I’m just not going there.

Though, if you haven’t seen this video from “Funny or Die” about a children’s theatre critic, stop everything and click that link.  It’s worth it.  I’ll wait.

Let me be clear.  I’m not saying that Annie, Jr. is a bad show.  I haven’t seen it, but I’m sure it’s a lovely production.  My point is, unlike Andy Molina in the Funny or Die clip, I’m not comfortable making any negative comments about child performers, so I’m not going to review the show at all.

And this is the point of my post today–my “job”, as a reviewer, is to mention both the good and the bad about productions.  A review that is all positive is publicity, and that’s not the purpose of a reviewer.  It’s almost the opposite of the Golden Rule–if I can’t make negative comments, then I can’t comment at all.

A theatre critic is a neutral third-party, knowledgeable about theatre, providing an opinion about the quality of a production.  Yes, a positive review can drive up ticket sales, but that only works if the public learns to trust that the reviewer is giving an honest assessment of the show.  So every review I write will contain not only positive comments, but also opinions about what “needs improvement”.

I believe the cherished dream of any theatre reviewer is to have to struggle, night after night, to figure out what “needs improvement” about the show they just saw.  Sadly, that’s what it is–a dream.  It is a rare production, amateur or professional, that doesn’t have SOMETHING that could have been done better.  The difference is WHAT those things are.  Sometimes it’s niggly details, like the wrong width of necktie for the period, but sometimes it’s something more serious, like a muddled artistic vision.

Besides, a reviewer also exists to educate the AUDIENCE.  We can’t expect the public to appreciate quality theatre, if they don’t know what that is.  It goes beyond an audience thinking, “I liked it.”  They need to learn WHY they liked it (or didn’t).  As the public gets more informed, they will appreciate good shows even more.

Not counting school shows, we’re almost at the level of a new show opening every weekend.  That is amazing, and I had no idea how much I was biting off when I started this reviewing project.  I can’t guarantee that I’ll make it to every show, but I will do the best I can.  And when I write my reviews, I will do my best to make them thoughtful and insightful and positive.

One of my overall personal goals IS to help drive up attendance, so I will always put the most positive spin on the reviews I can, which hopefully will help productions in the short-term.  But in the long run, I can help best by also pointing out ways to improve.  My job as a reviewer is to hold a candle up to your work, and shine a light not only on the great things you’ve accomplished, and to help the audience understand why it is so wonderful, but also to give my opinion on where it could have been better.

The reviews, of course, are one person’s opinion, so take the comments, both good and bad, with a grain of salt.

You will always be welcome to comment, especially if there’s something with which you disagree.  Comments will be open for a review for a few weeks after it is published, or you can always email me directly ( at any time.

And I will leave you with this…

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

–Teddy Roosevelt

See you at the theatre!