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Premature Evaluation

Shrek In his March 5 column in the New York Post, Michael Riedel revealed an email exchange between himself and John Weidman, president of the Dramatists Guild of America. Weidman upbraided the theatre reporter for delivering his opinion of some of the songs performed at a “sneak peek” of the new musical Shrek. Weidman objected to Riedel reviewing an important element of a show that hadn’t even gone into rehearsal. Riedel responded that with Broadway tickets going on sale months in advance and prices soaring to $200–$450, it was appropriate for columnists “to give their impression of a show” well before its opening date. His point: If producers are going to charge such prices, the theatregoing public has a right to as much information as soon as possible. “These people are not making art. They’re in it for the money. Period,” Riedel concluded.

Regardless of their motives, the creators of a theatrical work are entitled to some leeway when their show has yet to play a public performance for a paying audience. Riedel’s criticism of Shrek’s score may be accurate, but the show is a work in development, and his premature assessment could damage its chances even if every song he heard is replaced before performances commence.

In this age of instant information and Internet chatter, it’s inevitable that nonprofessional opinions of previewing productions will proliferate. As soon as a show starts previews, numerous chat boards are filled with amateur reviews. One of those boards, All That Chat on TalkinBroadway.com, is attempting to curtail early reports by refusing to post opinions of dress rehearsals or gypsy run-throughs—performances not meant for the general public and where the invited audience consists mostly of theatre professionals.

Journalists should not be delivering their opinions on shows that have yet to give a public performance. As a reporter—not a critic—Riedel can certainly write about a show by quoting sources close to the production and monitoring the advance at the box office, but courtesy and fairness demand he withhold his own opinion until the show is before a paying audience.    

-- David Sheward

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