THEATER TALK: Oops, I Saw It Again
Well this is where it gets interesting: a few weeks back, I saw "Newsies" for a second time, with about a month between the first and second viewings. I had absolutely adored it when I saw it the first time, but I left the second show with a lesser opinion of the show.
Perhaps this is because the cast was just having an off night. I remember the second time I saw the "Hair" revival, I wasn't particularly impressed, but I was head over heels again after I saw the show a third (and fourth) (and fifth) time, leading me to believe they weren't at their best that particular night. But I don't think that was what happened with "Newsies." Having loved the story about striking newspaper boys the first time, I immersed myself in the show, as I am wont to do. I listened to the cast recording an obscene number of times, I watched videos of cast performances, I relived the show in my head, and so on. Maybe this led to the show's downfall: I had built up such high expectations for my second viewing that there was no way it could possibly live up to it.
Or maybe not: the second time I saw "Spring Awakening," a show that I had fallen absurdly in love with after seeing once, I thought it was still a wonderful experience. Not so magical as the first time I saw it (is there anything as magical as the first time you see a show you love?). But I still adored it, even though I'm sure I'd built up higher expectations for that than I had for "Newsies"—"Spring Awakening" remains, to this day, my all-time favorite show, and has been since I first saw it.
By all means, I shouldn't have liked "Ghost" better the second time. It's a guilty pleasure kind of show, one that I was sure would fall apart at the seams the more I deconstructed it. But the opposite ended up being true; the things I enjoyed the first time, I still liked, and rest of it grew on me. While I still don't think the score is great, I appreciate it more, and I daresay enjoy it more, now that I've heard it again in context. Generally, I find the lyrics less objectionable (with some exceptions). This time, thanks to the wonderful entity that is the ticket lottery, I was fortunate enough to sit in the front row, and I must say, I was more impressed by the acting than I had been the first time, particularly that of Bryce Pinkham—up close, the work he is doing with his character is much clearer. I had fun trying to figure out how the illusions work (though some still remain a complete mystery). All in all, I quite enjoyed the show, and walked out eager to see it again.
So then, since I've established a precedent of enjoying shows just as well, if not better, the second time ("Hair" excluded, since I loved the subsequent performances, but including many other shows not mentioned here), why didn't I like "Newsies" better the second time? I think it was because I was more aware of its flaws. With all the Tony buzz in the weeks before the awards ceremony, there was plenty of chatter about the merits and flaws of the two main contenders, "Once" and "Newsies." The main complaints about the latter were its flawed book (though props to Harvey Fierstein for creating a strong female character!) and its repetitive score. Both serve the musical fine upon a first viewing, but were disillusioning to me the second time. When I left, I didn't feel inspired to see the show again any time too soon.
It could be that, like "Hair," I'll love "Newsies" after I see it once more. But this brings up an interesting question in terms of criticism: in an ideal world, would I review a show after seeing it twice? While I'm almost entirely certain I'd have a better appreciation of the piece as a whole were I to do so, at the same time, I think it would be almost misleading if I did. To my mind, a substantial part of a show's merit is how well it stands up the first time I see it. Only a very small minority of a given show's audience will be repeat visitors, so I think it's incredibly important that a show is accessible upon a first viewing. For me, the best shows are ones that are enjoyable the first time, but reveal astounding hidden depths the more you see and think about them, and furthermore, are shows that make you leave the theater thinking, I can't wait until I can see that again!
What's the moral of the story then? Trust your first instinct regarding a show—but only to a certain point. If you find yourself on the fence (and possessing some extra money), go back and see the show again. Who knows? You just may like it better the second time!