Las Vegas Sun

October 6, 2022

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A&E: Criticism: Reviewing the reviewer

Lots of people think I have a dream job. Since I’ve arrived in Las Vegas, I’ve seen Celine Dion, Bette Midler, Elton John and Cher.

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For free.

It’s my job to review entertainment in Las Vegas, which means I’m also tasked to cover homegrown artists, most recently the Las Vegas Philharmonic and Little Theatre of Las Vegas.

Though I’ve enjoyed and been encouraged by much of what I’ve seen, I’ve also seen (and heard) need for improvement.

And I’ve said so.

This has resulted in quite a few testy calls and e-mails from readers. Every article in the Las Vegas Sun, including reviews, invites readers to respond to the writer.

The general feeling was that I was too mean to local artists. One woman urged me to write “only flowery things” about the Henderson Symphony, because, as she told me, “they work very hard and they don’t get paid for it.”

Just the other day, while waiting to see a play, a fellow critic called my attention to a theater Web site where he and I are both castigated by actors for our opinions and errors. It was hard not to check it out.

And I did.

One poster rightly nailed me for getting the name of a lead actor wrong in a review, which kicked off a relatively lengthy comment chain. Using pseudonyms, posters snapped at me and at each other. Some even defended me. I was fascinated by the theories about my background and qualifications and motivations.

I’m glad someone’s reading what I write, and I’m even gladder theater people have a place to discuss what they think about reviews — and reviewers. It’s been a one-sided conversation, favoring the critic, for far too long. Responding to a critic has always been a touchy situation in local theater, because the same critic is likely to review you next time out.

So it’s only fair that what I write is subject to criticism itself (after it gets past my editor and the copy editors). And I can take it.

Though I won’t be going to Talkin’ Broadway every day. That way madness lies.

Who am I kidding? I’ll be checking the reviews of my reviews the next day, just the same as the actors who bravely/foolishly read theirs.

Reviewing local art is just part of what I’m doing at the Las Vegas Sun, but it’s an important part. The idea is to nurture the culture that is growing here — which means paying attention, documenting it and establishing benchmarks for improvement.

Even with two decades of experience, describing a work of art is hard to do (try it!). You want people to enjoy reading the review, and get interested in whatever performer you’re describing, and maybe feel inspired to go see for themselves.

Any critic (or blog commenter) will tell you it’s much easier to be negative. Clever words for a failed or inadequate performance come more quickly. When I’m reviewing a multimillion-dollar Strip spectacular or an amateur community theater, I adjust my expectations and standards accordingly. If something’s a good attempt, I do my best to accentuate the positive, and make a suggestion if I have one.

And if something is just plain bad, I’m going to say so. There are plenty of people who are paid well to praise everything.

I’m not here to flatter — or to flatten. No one is happier than I am when artists succeed.

By the way, that online kerfuffle ended with this comment: “The only people who buy newspapers for a critic’s viewpoint are the people being reviewed.;-)”

Ouch.

Joe Brown wants to hear from you. Really.

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