Review of RENT

It was fortuitous that my first piece for Xpress’ theatre review project was the rock opera Rent by Jonathan Larson. I was in middle school when the play first came out, got to go see the original production at the Nederlander Theatre in New York, wore a hole through the CD, had the T-shirt, signed poster and know all the words to “La Vie Boheme.” If there was ever a musical I really felt qualified to review, it’s this one.

Rent has won a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony for best musical and is the 7th-longest running Broadway show ever. It is based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Boheme, but sets its plot in modern (1990s) New York City, instead of Paris in the 1800s. It follows the story of a group of artist friends, trying to keep from going broke in a difficult economy. Sound familiar?

The show is currently being put on by Asheville-based Bioflyer Productions at the Diana Wortham Theatre as a benefit for the Eblen Charities, WNCAP and Loving Food Resources. As per usual, Bioflyer frontman Rock Eblen wears multiple hats in this production as the show’s director, producer, and scenic/sound/costume designer. He also plays the role of Benny.

As is true with previous Bioflyer endeavors, Rent gives Eblen the opportunity to show off his tremendous knack for pulling actors out of the much-tapped Asheville woodwork who are immensely talented and aren’t the same 10 faces that seem to get cast over and over in every show in town. I was positively bowled over by the vocal talents of the performers in this production.

Derek Stipe and Erica Layton head up the cast as the tragic lovers Roger and Mimi (not quite as tragic as Puccini‘s Rodolfo and Mimi, but you get the gist). Stipe is new to musical theatre, but shows no signs of it in this production. Layton, a senior at UNCA, encountered microphone difficulties on the opening night, but handled it like a pro. I would say she handled it like a lady, but one can only be considered so lady-like while grinding on a banister and making cat noises.

There was quite a bit of microphone and speaker challenges when I attended the production, as there often is on opening nights. While as an audience member, you try to dismiss most technical difficulties, I do think that the entire cast would have benefited from more rehearsal time with the body mics and with the live band. There was a definite synchronicity issue between the band and the actors throughout the production, and in a show that has plenty of numbers that make Stephen Sondheim feel tongue-tied, it was hard not to notice.

Daniel Hensley and Rod Leigh also got a chance to strut their vocal stuff in this show as Mark Cohen and Tom Collins, two roommates on the verge of homelessness and destitution. And Margaret Evans rounds out the cast, with her belts and hip rolls, as the off-color, loud-mouthed performance artist Maureen.

Chuck Taft serves as musical director for Rent, and Jacob Walas adds his talents to the production as choreographer.

While I was thoroughly impressed with the actors’ vocal ranges and spot-on harmonies, and naturally, by Jason Williams’ usual brilliance in his lighting design for the show, I was a little bummed that there wasn’t more variety between the Bioflyer version of Rent and the one I saw on Broadway, as far as artistic choices go. The set was exactly the same, the props, even some of the costumes were complete copies of the professional version. While I don’t know how specific the script is in what it calls for with these elements, I kind of wish that Eblen could have thrown some creativity into making this show his own.

Ultimately, though, the show was an awful lot of fun and for a great cause.

Tickets are $20, $15 with Student ID. Performances are 8 p.m. through Saturday, April 24 at the Diana Wortham Theatre. Suggested for mature audiences. www.dwtheatre.com.

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30 thoughts on “Review of RENT

  1. AshevilleAcorn

    “The set was exactly the same, the props, even some of the costumes were complete copies of the professional version.” and “…I kind of wish that Eblen could have thrown some creativity into making this show his own.”

    Meg Hale fails to realize Music Theatre International contracts specify not making changes to their rented materials. The portion of the set on stage left resembles the original one on Broadway but is in no way an “exact copy.” Subtle references to Asheville are found in the set including use of a local gas station sign and car wash light, a local grocery cart, and a Citizen Times newspaper box. Also, most of the costumes came from the casts’ personal wardrobes as approved by Eblen. The props and costumes effectively and evocatively reflect the characters and period.

    Theatre reviewers, especially for a highly respected arts publication, should not make assertions that are unfounded. Curiosity strikes me when a review of a show which has received standing ovations this week (even after intermission) directly seeks to slight an extremely talented, persistent, and innovative individual. Upon research, I found a local blog review by Hale of a former BioFlyer production, which had the same consistency of personally attacking Eblen.

    Eblen and the phenomenal cast create unique emotional moments throughout this show with nuances, subtle humor, and great timing. Despite, opening night’s tech glitches and the dramatic pre-show theatre fire evacuation, the show revealed compassion and insight into what it really means (and feels) to live and love—deeply. BioFlyer’s production of Rent surprises and moves the audience to reconsider community compassion through individual acceptance and love.

  2. TheatrePro

    ” . . .Music Theatre International contracts specify not making changes to their rented materials. . . ”

    while it is true that Music Theatre International does not allow unauthorized changes in script or music, the rental agency does not specify what settings and costumes can be used. Only professional productions are tightly controlled. Amateur productions have lots of leeway in how to stage the show. High schools and community theatres are not expected to replicate the Broadway production.

    Alas, so-called standing ovations are not any indication of quality, as American audiences outside of major cities tend to leap to their feet on automatic pilot. Jesse McKinley addressed this problem (as have other critics) in his article entitled, “The Tyranny of the Standing Ovation” in 2003. He wrote, “Go to nearly any Broadway house, any night, and you can catch a crowd jumping up for the curtain call like politicians at a State of the Union address. And just as in politics, the intensity of the ovation doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of the performance.

    The phenomenon has become so exaggerated, in fact, that audiences now rise to their feet for even the very least successful shows. Recent Broadway flops like ‘Jackie Mason’s Laughing Room Only,’ which closed in less than two weeks, ‘The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,’ which closed on opening night, and ‘Bobbi Boland,’ which closed in previews, all received standing ovations.

    This sort of effusive praise can also be witnessed far from Broadway. Opera fans have never shied away from huzzahs (not to mention boos), but lately even classical music crowds have been getting in on the act — and out of their seats. Modern dance and ballet fans might be a tad more discerning, but they regularly rise up when the curtain falls. Even British audiences, who used to insist that they ‘only stand for the Queen,’ have been seen leaping to their feet on the West End like junior high school drama students on a class trip to ‘Cats.'”

    Given Ms. Hale’s previous review of Bioflyer and Mr. Eblen, maybe the A&E editor should have sent her “first string” critic, Steven Samuels who knows how to convey the merits and demerits of local productions with great gentleness.

  3. nickles

    I may have more to say about the show later after a bit of rumination, but overall I thought this was a fairly nice review. A misunderstanding of a contractual issue does not change the fact that what I saw above was a largely positive assessment of the production with one paragraph called into question. If it is indeed Mrs. Hale’s intention to smear the name of Eblen, she is taking an almost glacial approach to the endeavor.

    I do find it important, however, to bring up the phrase “opening night’s technical glitches”. In my opinion I think the reviewer and the commenter are being a bit too kind here. It’s not like we’re saying “invited dress technical issues” or “preview technical issues”, we were an audience that paid full price to see a show that we got to hear a majority of.

    I know this seems unfair, and I want to make it clear I enjoyed many parts of the show and many of the technical aspects. I have no way of knowing if the fault lies with actors, technicians, or equipment. I think, however, that an opening night glitch is when I notice a sound effect missing it’s mark or a blackout happening at the wrong time. If I’m wondering if the production in question had time for a technical rehearsal at all it is a different state entirely.

  4. zomBgrl

    Since when does questioning an artist’s aesthetic decisions in a given work constitute a personal attack? By AshevilleAcorn’s standards, every review worthy of the name is a personal attack.
    No. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

  5. working pro

    When I think of highly respected arts publications Mtn Xpress does not come to mind. So I would not worry to much about the slight, intended or not, as it will probably be seen by a handful of people. As to the comments about “opening night glitches” truly professional theatre productions have the luxury of many previews to work out all the problems. The Wortham is a rental facility with many other events booked so there is limited time to get it right. But that’s no excuse. If you are charging full price then deliver or expect to face the music if you don’t. Eblen Charities has been raising money for good causes in Asheville for decades and many of the audience members were there to support that endeavor as much as they were there to see the musical.The Flatrock Playhouse is the only true professional theatre producing in this area. While I don’t always like their choice of material when I go to see a show there I know that I am going to see paid professional actors, designers and theatre technicians working in a facility designed to mount stage productions (high ceilings, sufficient lighting, scenic artistry) that is dedicated to getting it right…everytime, on time. Is this the only way to mount credible theatre, of course not, but we are talking about a collaborative process that at it’s best blends every element to enhance the total experience.And if you don’t have all those elements…. As to the standing ovation comments, I generally leap out of my seat at the end of way to many productions in town due to the hard uncomfortable seats. Please take my comments with a grain of salt as I do not write for a highly respected arts publication either.

  6. Avid Dramatist

    Brav-O! Theatre Pro and Working Pro…Nicely said. Nothing wrong with that review and as I’ve said before we need to be a little tougher on theatre being produced in professional venues in Asheville otherwise we will never get the quality we crave and deserve. I would have never perceived that review as being unfair or a personal attack on anyone mentioned in said review. What’s up with that? And as far as a “standing ovation” — it better be BRILLIANT before I will even consider a standing ovation. The only deserving standing ovation I’ve seen in the past ten years was at the end of a Tuesday night performance on Broadway with Alice Ripley in “Next to Normal.” It’s gotta be that good or…come on, give me a break!

  7. Joseph Barcia

    At least Meg Hale acknowledges she isn’t fully certain of what the published script specifies and is contractually required.

    Also, it is unreasonable to claim Hale is or has engaged in an ad hominem attack against Rock Eblen. As zomBgrl pointed out, Hale has only questioned Eblen’s aesthetic decisions. Sure, Eblen has a lot of money and is associated with a great local charity, but this does not mean that his artistic work does not deserve praise and criticism equal to others who do not have the same personal credentials.

  8. Theatre Goer

    ” . . ..The Flatrock Playhouse is the only true professional theatre producing in this area. . .”

    Where does NC Stage fit in?

  9. sharkbear.org

    Congratulations to the actor who played Collins (I know, I’m that guy that doesn’t save his programs forever) for really doing a great job in the show. I’ve never liked the song “Santa Fe”, but to be fair I don’t like the “Santa Fe” in Newsies, either. I think it’s just a grudge match between me and the city. In this production, however, Collins’ voice was dominant enough that I felt I appreciate the song more. I don’t know that I liked the choreography that went on during, but as I see by debates above I really don’t know if I’m even talking to the right forum for that.

    Either way, it was a fun night. I was less annoyed by the mic problems in theory than in the fact that going back to fix them did make the first act a bit overly long. Also, problems with the existing equipment aside I do wish it would have been possible to get all members of the cast wired for sound (and if wishes were fishes the sky would be scales), or at least make a note to move them toward the stationary mics they had set up so they could be heard all the time.

    In conclusion, I have a bit of a curmudgeonly history with this show as it was absolutely, overly huge when I was in high school and also checks off many things on my check list of ‘things that are likely to annoy me in a show’. Trust me RENT, it’s not you, it’s me. It was nice to see it again, however, and have another perspective of it (one mostly affected by the world that has changed around the show since it’s crest in popularity).

  10. Avid Dramatist

    Hey, sharkbear, nice. Appreciated your comments. Dear Theatre Goer, NC Stage is a professional theater simple because the hire actors who are members of Actors Equity Assn. which is the union for stage actors. And Joseph B, yes, if we are going to perform in professional venues we should all be held to the same standards. It’s not high school.

  11. Estella Banks

    I think I got it right when I reviewed Eblen’s TOMMY in a blog last year: “Bioflyer Productions is here to stay.” Reason being this company knows how to recruit great local talent. I actually enjoyed this show even more than TOMMY, but I’m a ‘Renthead’ so guess I’m a little prejudiced. But I have seen umpteen versions of this musical and this was definitely one of my favorites. So sue me.

    Who cares if Meg Hale has a little beef with Rock Eblen? I doubt if he cares. He’s obviously gonna plow ahead with cool productions anyway. Besides, people either come to see the RENT they are familiar with, or they’re curious what the hell it’s all about. Why not give them the production as it was originally conceived? It would be presumptuous for Eblen to try to mount something different and better than the original. He did the Broadway version of TOMMY and nobody complained about that.

    One thing I do know, because I’ve done some volunteer work over at Eblen Charities, is there’s a common assumption that the Charity, or Eblen’s family, somehow funds these productions. It’s just not true. They made it clear that isn’t legal for one thing–and that Rock Eblen is totally on his own in terms of financing these shows. Apparently he’s good at getting local folks to loan stuff. Where the hell did he get those tables everybody was jumping on? I’d like to have one of those.

  12. RENTcastmember

    As the name suggests, I was in the BioFlyer production of RENT at DWT. Many of us in the cast were concerned about sticking closely to the original production, and luckily our director allowed us to make changes if there were problems with how it would translate. I would defend Mr. Eblen’s artistic choices by saying that although we were faithful to the original production’s sets, staging, and some of the costumes (which the script IS specific about, at times… it’s hard to get better than mrs. claus drag — thank you, Jonathan Larson) we had no choice but to make the show our own in other ways.

    To clear the air: no, we didn’t have much time with the band. The first FULL band rehearsal was Tuesday (and we had a preview audience on Wednesday). That was due to scheduling and money. Our cast was completely volunteer, whereas the band was being paid. Not only that, the band listed in our playbill had substitute musicians for nearly every performance. It was tough for our cast, but we made it through.

    Also, on the other nights of the show we had fewer and fewer problems, to the point where our Saturday night audience was completely sold and invested in the show. We were a success in so many ways. I’m glad I was a part of it. Thanks to everyone who came to see it, whether you liked it or not.

    La Vie Boheme!

  13. Rod Leigh

    Wow. Once again this show has created a bunch of buzz from both camps. All I have to say is THANK YOU so much for everyone who came out to support this show, technical difficulties or not. And honestly, the ONLY people who really knew what went on to put this show together and who have ANY right to speak about the process or comment on the hows, whys, ifs, ands, & buts about this show are those of us who were involved in putting it together from the beginning. This was a beautiful process that brought people from all ages and all backgrounds together to create something. Something that we did together. Yes, the public is entitled to the opinions expressed above. That’s what makes this show so special. But I know I did my job when I hear people say that this show moved them in some special way, only if I hear it from one person. Oh, and sharkbear, thank you very much for your comments about Tom Collins. One of my most favorite roles to date!!

  14. bvl28714

    I went to the opening performance of this show and if I had not been with friends I doubt I would have stayed long. None of us were as enthusiastic about the show upon leaving and I was struck by the review. WNC people are quite enamored of their local theatre companies, which is great, but even the vaunted NC Stage and Flat Rock Playhouse can churn out clunkers even with their straight from NY casts. The show itself is not all that great-its fun and the music is catchy. But it requires a level of technical expertise to get good mix and mic checks definitely help. This production had some of the worst sound ever- Mr. Eblen-who acted directed designed (costumes sound etc), or at least credited himself with these things didn’t do that great of a job with any of them. Mediocre at best. The show had good and bad moments and certainly the second act was better than the first- but there was little to no nuance in the music very little tension and conflict. The acting in this show- which has as much to do with the way the show is written as the performances.

    As for standing ovations. I have to agree. The last show that I saw in Asheville that really moved me…. was done by a bunch of unpaid amatuers and it was great show. I hope Bioflyer continues to challenge itself, I hope Mr. Eblen continues to attract people that share is passion. I hope he gets a better sound person and as a lifelong theatre goer I am ready to buy the next ticket…. But WNC theatre does not hold a candle to what one can see- quality wise and thematically even in say Charlotte or Greenville, SC. I hope we get there.

    As an African-American I would love to see August Wilson’s works performed here and less of the re-hashing of yesterday’s broadway triumphs.

  15. Tiger Lilly

    Beginning caveat: I did not see the show, so my comments are “theoretical”. Theatre Pro is right to point out that MTI prohibits changes to script or music, and that producers and directors usually have freedom to design, stage and choreograph a show from scratch. Indeed, they have not only the freedom to do so, but an obligation as well, by tradition, and, increasingly, legally. In paying royalties to MTI, a producer is paying for permission to present the work of a writer and composer, who receive royalties in compensation. However, the producer is not paying for the right to present the work of a previous designer, choreographer or director through MTI. Copying the design, choreography or staging of a previous production can infringe on what is increasingly recognized as a copyright of the original designers, choreographer and/or director. In the case of a dispute, a copyright judge would have to decide what would constitute, in intellectual capital terms, a “copy” (small variations or universal conventions not withstanding).

    But even before this area of the law began to develop (most notably with a suit by the director Joe Mantello of a regional production of “Love! Valour! Compassion!” that copied the design concept and staging of the original B’way production), it has been tradition that copying a production concept, choreography and staging (unless indicated by the author and therefore part of the “script”) without giving credit to the original creators, is considered inartistic and disrespectful, if not downright stealing. Directors, choreographers and designers are integral to the success of original productions, especially commercial ones. They receive royalties for this work and have as much a right to be acknowledged (and paid) as wordsmiths and composers.

    It’s possible, of course, that the original director of a new show may have contractual agreements with the other “authors” that ensure a share of royalties from every subsequent production, in which case, it may not matter if direction is copied, from a legal or contractual standpoint. But this should be made clear, and the original creator should be credited.

    Estella, this can be a gray area, both in the law and in practice. For some, there may be an ethical and artistic code worth following. How to remain true to a written script and score, and yet do an unique production? But this is what theater artists do all the time: they bring their own artistic vision to interpret previously written material. In copying someone else’s work, I don’t see how one could, in good faith, say “directed by…so-and-so” if the direction was copied outright from someone else.

  16. TheatrePro

    Tiger Lilly is very knowledgeable about the legal/copyright issues. Jerome Robbins made sure this his direction/choreography was legally protected, along with the rights of the writers, composers and lyricists. The director John Dexter had a famous falling out with the playwright Peter Shaffer when Dexter’s staging directions were included in published versions of Shaffer’s plays, without any royalties accruing to Dexter.

    The other issues – what is “professional,” what is “amateur,” what is “community theatre,” does membership in Actors Equity provide any baseline of professional expertise, other than putting in the required number of working hours with an Equity company, no exam or educational/training qualifications required – are longstanding and will never be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.

    For that matter, the issue of who is a “professional” critic and who is not, will never be resolved. MountainX says its about “community conversation,” so it seems to be accomplishing its objective as far as theatre goes.

  17. working pro

    Theatre Pro, maybe the issue of “who is a professional critic and who is not” has not been resolved for you but it has been for me. Sightlines was born out of discussions among a number of theatre people in this town and at MTN XPress who decided that the gentlemen who review for the Asheville Citizen Times weren’t qualified to critique theatre and they could do it better. What has not been resolved, I would suggest, is weather or not they can. I don’t really want to read a lecture that instructs me on what I should think about when I go to the theatre. That’s what I get from Mtn Xpress reviews way too much of the time.

  18. E. Rollins

    For me the show was mixed at best. I thought it succeeded on the strength of the musical direction, the performers vocal quality, and Jonathan Larson’s book, music and lyrics themselves.
    In my opinion the show’s biggest failure lies in the fact that Mr Eblen once again wears too many hats. I think by choosing to be an actor and the director of the show, Mr. Eblen robbed the rest of the rather talented cast of the one thing they really needed, an outside eye. The staging was at times clunky, motivations were unclear, actors seemed to be holding themselves back, and worst of all I never got the feeling of connection when characters were singing to each other. Rent by no means is a Brechtian musical. The characters have to feel like they are engaging directly with each other, or the audience, or the emotional impact of the story is lost and it just becomes a bunch of people singing pretty songs.
    Had Mr Eblen either removed himself from the role of Benny (a role which I hate to say, but I don’t think he quite had the chops for anyway) and focused on his job of directing, or hired an outside director to concentrate solely on the stage picture, and getting the actors to connect, I think it would have been a rather memorable show.
    Another thing that bothered me (and this is a comment on the Asheville theater scene in general, rather than specifically this production) is the lack of diversity in the cast. Rent is a show that is celebrated for it’s diversity. I think something is inherent to the production is lost when many of the traditionally minority roles are taken on by white people. There was probably no choice however for this production, which leads me to ask; for a town that claims to be so open and diverse, how are we failing to encourage our minority population to participate in the arts? Is the lack of minority artists a cultural thing or is it a lack of opportunities? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but if we want to avoid trapping ourselves in a “Friends” esque theater scene we need to address this dilemma.

  19. Estella Banks

    So here comes Eblen basher “E Rollins” again who doesn’t even use his real name, but just loves to get in the final punch. Why don’t you just meet up with Eblen and duke it out dude? You obviously hate the guy for some reason…because it’s always your main objective in your comments (with TOMMY as well) to belittle his efforts no matter what he does. Did he steal your girlfriend or something?

    Listen, we’re not talking hollywood or egomania here. We’re talking community entertainment, and the more you hide behind words and try to blacken an artist in your own neighborhood the more your motivations become questionable. Sure you’re entitled to your opinions, but honestly, your tone always suggests you could do the job better. Why don’t you go out and find the ‘minority’ performers Asheville is suppressing. Community theater auditions are OPEN dude. Why don’t you yourself audition and grace us with your expertise…we sure don’t want to be caught in a “Friends-esque” theater scene. God help us!

    Is it because Eblen actually pulls off wearing all the hats that bugs you? You strike me as the kind of person that comes to one of these benefit shows, sits in the audience, and while most other people are having a blast, you’re sulking there thinking about how you can knock this guy off his “high horse.” No wonder you don’t enjoy these shows, you’ve got a sour attitude before they even start.

    Gee, I wonder why more and more people keep coming to Eblen’s shows each year if he’s as inept as you like to paint?

  20. sharkbear.org

    WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAR!

    …no, just kidding. Personally, I think the biggest problem with where we’re going with this thread is the comments on some sort of blood vendetta held between reviewers and artists. While I think working pro’s arguments on the purpose of reviewing were slightly confusing to me, I have a much bigger problem with the idea that disliking productions by one person means you have it out for them. The first time, that’s just silliness. The second time it’s mentioned in a thread, however, it deserves a moment of thought.

    Here’s a truth. I don’t really like Kevin Smith films. He’s put out over six that I can think of and I haven’t all the way enjoyed one of them due to the tone and style. Does this mean I “have it out for” Mr. Smith? No, not at all. He just doesn’t use a style and tone that I care for. More importantly, without caring about the reviews that we are supposedly discounting, our experiences with productions and company histories are the only real thermometer we have for what we want to see in this town.

    I enjoyed the show, but if someone enjoyed it less I can’t get upset with them. Some seem to be arguing that no one is qualified to tell them what to think when they see theatre. That is a debatable question, but we seem to agree that no one in this town can tell us this as all of the people qualified to do so are in more urban areas. Fine, if that is the perspective then that is the perspective. But absolutely everyone is qualified (reviewer or commenter on the review) to say what they thought of a performance. We can disagree with one another all day (and we will), but trying to chalk any negative views up to a blood vendetta is a bit silly. I can think of many companies whose past two productions I did not enjoy. I have nothing against them. But if you believe in branding then they actually delivered what they promised by presenting a similar tone or work consistently.

    Should we put on kid gloves with each other? I don’t think so. But discrediting each other’s opinion’s as irrational or externally motivated by personal anger seems a bit counterproductive. At that point then we simply must post plot summaries and let the afore mentioned factors (production and company history) effect whether we see these shows. Will we avoid seeing several displeasing things? Sure, law of averages. But I, for one, would also have not seen this particular production which I did enjoy.

    Read a review or comment. Respond and argue with a review or comment. Bully for you, that is our obligation whether this be APAR or Sightlines because when you come right down to it that is the only reason these blogs exist. But let’s try not to discredit each others viewpoints as corrupted or inherently wrong. While I agree (and have ample experience in such matters) that it is difficult, we must try to recognize the fine line between “I disagree” and “you are mistaken”.

    Lastly, at 21 comments at least by posting of this I want to thank Mr. Eblen not only for bringing us an interesting production, but one of the more lively debates we’ve seen so far on this forum.

  21. tiger lilly

    Generally speaking, reviews of local shows with short runs don’t serve either the public or producers especially well. Most come too late for many people to make plans to see a show or to build interest in it. Because the reviewer must mix after-the-fact analysis and opinion of selected elements of the performance with only a minimum background information, reviews don’t educate consumers especially well about the shows, their origins and production histories, the organizations and artists that produce them, or their place in theatrical history or a larger cultural context.

    As sharkbear rightly points out, if one has seen a show, one can form one’s own “opinion”.

    All in all, most reviews train the public to be risk-adverse, and to relate to theater-going in a cautious, non-risk-taking fashion. They also create an impression that one person’s experience is relatively equivalent to seeing the show for one’s self. That simply is not the case.

    In the blogosphere, reviews (and the comment threads) tend to appeal mostly to certain cognoscenti or sub-cliques of relative insiders. I can’t but help think this may be alienating to more general readers.

    Arts editors would serve their readers and the local arts scene much better by publishing at least an equal number of preview/background articles on upcoming events as they do reviews, if not more. Comment threads might then focus on additional information that might better enrich a theater-goers’ experience.

  22. sharkbear.org

    APAR= Active Phased Array Radar…or something like that.

    Lilly, I do dig a lot of what you’re saying, but I did have a bit more to ramble (a fault, I know). First, I don’t know that I agree with reviews creating a risk adverse environment. I often feel that the general audience in the town I see before me has two major concerns in this regard. One is branding(a check of theatre goers that only go to one venue in town would be telling, I think). The second is, does the audience know the cast (those on a pilgrimage from the distant land of Flat Rock for the occasional Scott Treadway show in Asheville come to mind)?

    While I enjoyed RENT and this doesn’t really apply to the show, some of the arguments against reviewing it have bothered me. Short time to work with the sound because they’re in a touring house? Their choice. Short run? Also, their choice. I’m not attacking RENT, but I am saying every show deserves a review.

    Again, most of this is masked in recent personal experience. Without the positive review of ‘Alice Underground’ I would not have seen the show during its remount. I really enjoyed it, and it is the first Dark Horse production I’ve seen. I wasn’t avoiding it out of some malice, but, as the review stated, it has been adapted constantly. At some point you say, “I’m not going to see this work I’ve seen done so many times in so many mediums unless I hear something good about it”. While if a preview article had contained the headline, “It’s Alice, WITH A TWIST!” I would have skipped the article and the show.

  23. Tiger Lilly

    Sharkbear, I respond to your irrepressible ramble with a genial retort: branding and stars are designed precisely to appeal to the risk-averse. As such, such efforts reinforce that behavior. Reviews are another part of the same puzzle. Witness the comment on the Little Shop thread that says something like “I was confused; do you recommend it or not?” Perhaps a more accurate phrase would be “uncertainty averse”.

  24. Avid Dramatist

    Oh, well, just one more comment. I really enjoy what most of you have to say and this blog site is certainly doing its job by spreading the word. I’m trying to figure out why some of you have such an axe to grind, especially in stating that the reviewer is bent on destroying Mr. Eblen. My reading was that it was a positive review unless you really didn’t read it all. My problem with most of the reviews in this town is that they are a plot synopsis and never really get to any kind of informed opinion. I’m glad some reviews have opinions. What I don’t appreciate is the fact that reviewers hardly ever mention or report on what the audience reaction was on the evening they attended. I want to know the reviewers take on the show but I also want to know what the audience thought on a particular evening. I guess I’ll just go on trying to figure out the “personal attack” angle some of you harp on. Is anyone old enough to remember John Simon?

  25. Theatre Goer

    Avid Dramatist asks, “Is anyone old enough to remember John Simon?”

    Not sure I would want reviews on the John Simon model. Is anyone old enough to remember Frank Rich? Not sure I would want reviews on the Frank (“Butcher of Broadway”) model either. Is anyone old enough to remember Clive Barnes? Walter Kerr? Brooks Atkinson?

    What reviewers/critics are the local reviewers reading to learn how to write reviews?

  26. BGrier

    Theatre Goer, APAR is (was?) the Asheville Performing Arts Review blog. It was supposed to be a place where anyone could write a review of any show, and anyone could respond to those reviews. Sightlines does not exactly replace the other blog, but there was enough overlap that APAR has fallen out of use, at least for now.
    And now back to the regularly scheduled discussion of “RENT”…

  27. Estella Banks

    Cool…I get to be the 30th comment! No, I think I’ve said enough. Really. Not another word. Except my apologies for getting a little heated up back there, but I still think it’s crazy not to say Eblen is a talented guy to put these huge shows together from scratch. To address Avid Dramatist about audience reactions, you can go to the Bioflyer website and read for yourself: http://bioflyer.wordpress.com/bioflyer/rent/

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