Entertainment. That is what show business is all about. But, for a theatrical production to succeed, it often needs more than simply being entertaining.
Take the dearth of old-fashioned comedic plays. With the closing of Looped, Lend Me a Tenor is Broadway's only non-dark comedy. (Note that I wrote "non-dark," thereby excluding God of Carnage and A Behanding in Spokane, which are comedies, but are in a different world than many of the comedies of old.) I found Lend Me a Tenor completely enjoyable. Yet, despite some well-known leads and the show's crowd-pleasing attitude, it struggled financially during previews. I have a feeling that is in part because ticket buyers often want something more than a few laughs for their $120. They know they can get mindless comedy by watching a Judd Apatow movie--they want something more at the theater. I completely understand that, yet I fear it is based on faulty logic. Theater is never like a movie. It's automatically something more. And potential should exist for a comedic play that finds its humor in the light. A spokesperson for Lend Me a Tenor said sales last Monday (the day after the show received mostly positive reviews) were double what they were the previous Monday. I hope that trend continues.
However, in evaluating whether it will, there is more than just entertainment value to consider. As discussed, there are the movies and people's ideas about what is worth so much of their money. Then there are the critics. Lend Me a Tenor was helped by its mostly positive notices, but it didn't get the most important review; The New York Times slammed it. That shouldn't seal its fate--and, as noted above, ticket sales picked up after Tenor's other, positive notices--but this is a show that could have really benefited from a Times "money review."
On the alternate side of the spectrum there is The Addams Family, a musical that opened to dismal reviews this week, but had already been packing the theater. Roger Friedman wrote a ridiculous piece on whether the show was "critic proof." I mention this particular story because I want my readers to know the difference between fact and fiction. In his second paragraph, Friedman writes: "The Addams Family took in nearly $1.4 million last week in previews... A new show, not even opened, such a hit? It's never happened before." Except it has. The Little Mermaid took in around that amount while it was in previews in late 2007. Not to mention the unknowable, yet obviously boffo box office of Young Frankenstein. But, Friedman's errors aside, he is far from the only one waiving around the term "critic proof" this week.
Part of this talk fits into the discussion about the decreasing relevancy of critics. I've never quite bought that argument. On one hand, yes, everyone is now a "published" critic. But, on the other hand, the words of the "real" critics are now so much more widely disseminated. My mother would have never known what the AP thought of the original Grease, but she got emailed a roundup of reviews of the revival. I have often wondered if these factors cancel each other out.
Regardless, the only thing that will tell if The Addams Family is critic proof is time. Comparisons to Wicked are uncalled for--Wicked received some outstanding reviews from major publications and also captivated young girls in a way that The Addams Family never will. I have no reason to believe Addams will be any more critic proof than The Little Mermaid, another family friendly musical with a popular name and bad reviews. Producers of The Addams Family cannot accurately market the show as one critics hate, but other people love, as plenty of non-press people do not love it. They'll probably highlight quotes about the actors and pray that brand name recognition will be enough to sustain them. Crazier dreams have been had. And, if The Addams Family is a hit, it will indeed prove to be totally critic proof, like panned mega-star vehicles or select Disney musicals.
This all brings us back to entertainment. It shouldn't be about critics--it should be about whether people who actually buy tickets enjoy the show. Critics are a guidepost for that, that's it. Each one of you has to decide what is worth your money and what is not. But, I want to stress, that if you go to a show and really enjoy it, then you've spent a worthwhile night at the theater. Tell your friends.