Comment of the Day: “Are Musicals Reviewed By Ignoramuses?”

WordPress, for only the second time in three years, was kind enough to include my recent post about Stephen Sondheim’s footnote lament that musicals were the only art form largely reviewed by incompetents. This has brought a lot of new visitors to Ethics Alarms, and I hope they are interested in ethics as well as musicals. One such new reader is a Prof. Ratigan, who apparently does some reviewing himself. Here is his Comment of the Day, on the Jan 3, 2013 post (Here’s something weird—last year’s Jan.3 post was also about Sondheim!) Are Musicals Reviewed By Ignoramuses?…

Two points. The first is the literacy issue. I think it’s interesting that it would appear that a good reviewer is either a novice or a master where everything in between is amateur. I’ve been reviewing movies for the past year (on a blog) and I’ve definitely felt that in my own stuff. The more movies I watched and connections I could draw, the more it became apparent how much I really needed to do to become proficient. I needed to read a lot more literature, read a lot more scripts, and watch a lot more movies. Otherwise, I would start to create a context but have a nagging feeling that the director/writer/actor (who are often scholars of film) might/probably know more than me and were doing something else. It seems that these musical reviewers aren’t expected to take the next step from reviewer to analyst.

The second point is about objectivity. If the audience laughs, it doesn’t make it funny, but the reviewer should point out that other people were laughing. But she should do both. It is probably a more effective review that way (if the review is for guidance). I find musicals less and less funny the more I watch films or read classically funny books (Wodehouse, for example) and I can’t tell whether that’s the level of writing today or if it’s the medium.

There’s a great point in your post that says that the vital thing in making Sondheim a phenomenal critic is that he knows *why*. I haven’t read a musical review in my life, but if they’re anything like film reviewers (and I suspect they are), the review is manically devoted to creating clever-ish descriptions. “Unfunny as a funeral” is a good example. They don’t go into why. I find my tripping point is expressing why something goes right (though I find it very easy to express why something goes wrong).

3 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Are Musicals Reviewed By Ignoramuses?”

    • But what do you have to know to write good music? Irving Berlin never could read music, not Lenin, nor McCartney, and the minstrel with “Greensleeves” in his heart probably was illiterate as well.

      Lyric writing, however, which is really where Sondheim shines, cannot be done competently by ignoramuses–who do write a lot of lyrics.

  1. My intended point was that a lot of self-proclaimed composers, being talentless as most are, are quick to criticize those who “repress their creativity” by pointing out the fact that they ARE talentless to the public. Then again, some reviewers wouldn’t know good music if it bit them on the ankle.

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