Isn't it time to go back in yet...?

Yes, my mid-season intermission continues, driving me ever closer to madness each day it trudges on, seeming to get no nearer to that first Assassins rehearsal... Help meeeee....

Today, Judith Newmark, theatre critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, published her annual "Judy Awards," a nice way to wrap up the year and pay some compliments to the theatre community. Luckily for us, Judy usually likes our work a lot, and she has honored us with either a "Best Musical" or "Most Ambitious Production" every year (except one) since 1997. This year, she gave us the nod for our Urinetown, of which I was mighty proud, thank you very much.

There used to be a lot of year-end reviews, but there are only three now -- the Post, the Ladue News, and the Riverfront Times. Of course, Dennis Brown is the main reviewer at the RFT and we banned him from our theatre in 2004 (he compared The Nervous Set to a stillborn baby in his review, how fucked up and creepy is that?), so that means our shows won't be making an appearance in the RFT's retrospective any time soon. A small price to pay, though, for the deep satisfaction of banning a needlessly hostile critic. And though Mark Bretz of the Ladue News generally likes our work, he's been raving about us less than he used to.

There are two or three local reviewers who are writing fewer and fewer good things about us lately -- even though our audiences and the other reviewers seem to think our work is just getting better and better. Don't get me wrong, we still get pretty strong reviews most of the time, but a few of the local reviewers just don't like our shows the way they used to.

That might bother me, might make me question our work, except that our audiences still seem to love our shows. We sell out a lot (probably less now that we're in a bigger house), and the company remains very successful. I think what's at play here is that we're evolving as a company, doing more and more adventurous work, breaking more and more rules. This last show, Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll was a genuinely abstract evening of theatre and followed very few of the rules of musical theatre. Some reviewers find that stimulating and fun; others find it disorienting and unsettling. So it seems we may be doomed to a perpetual mixed reception, some reviewers loving our work, some fairly hostile to it, with our audience mostly on the "loving it" side.

And though I can dismiss some of their criticisms as just ignorance of what we're attempting, I also have to be careful not to get too smug or contented with the quality of our work. I always have to question in the back of my fevered brain whether we're doing the best work we can, whether we continue to challenge ourselves and take risks. I never can get overly comfortable with the sweeping generalization that the naysayers just don't "get it." That's a slippery slope...

I guess we're lucky that Judy Newmark and Calvin Wilson, the two reviewers for the Post, really do get our work and they routinely write intelligent, insightful reviews about our shows. That's not to say their reviews are always raves, but they do get us, and that's pretty terrific considering we're in culturally conservative St. Louis, in the shadow of the Muny and Stages. (There are quite a few excellent reviewers at KDHX who like our work as well.)

I suppose if we wanted everyone to love us, we'd have to be pretty bland -- Pajama Game, anyone? A fate worse than fuckin' death by mega-musical, in my humble opinion...

Long Live the Musical!