We weren’t planning to review “Robin Hood: The Musical,” playing at the Franciscan Center through Saturday.
Since this was the Franciscan Center’s first show, we figured we’d give them a little “honeymoon” period. Chances are, the first production would show signs of being, well, a first production. I figured I’d go see the show, quietly, and if it was particularly good, write a review. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t. No sense giving them bad publicity when they’re just getting on their feet; we’ll let the first show slide and start reviewing them next time.
Then I started getting e-mails and phone calls from people, asking why we hadn’t reviewed the show yet. Additionally, two different people submitted their own glowing reviews. I don’t know if any of these folks were connected with the theater or not, but it piqued my interest. If people were insisting on seeing a review in the paper, well, I’ll give them one. Apparently, I was missing out on a really great show and should have tried harder to see it sooner.
So I went, and here we go.
I like the fact that a new venue for plays has been established. Unfortunately, the Franciscan Center, which used to be the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, is not an ideal spot. The place is still used for worship services, so no attempt has been made to “theaterize” it. It’s un-air-conditioned, and the hard wood benches are extraordinarily uncomfortable (second only to Sundance’s outdoor theater, whose wooden rows have the added bonus of being splintery).
One can get past these factors, as long as the shows aren’t too lengthy. But consider this: Admission is $12 (with $6 tickets for students, seniors and children, and family passes available). That’s more than Hale Center Theater, the Villa Playhouse, or SCERA. Even Provo Theatre Company — which hires professional actors and directors and has padded theater seats and air-conditioning — tops out at $12.50.
So you have to wonder, as good as this show may be, is it worth being the most expensive show in the valley?
They seem to have realized that it’s not. The night I was there, they were letting pretty much everyone in for free, as long as they promised to tell others about the show later. I’m guessing attendance had been low. And no wonder! With so many theater options in this valley, people aren’t going to pay a lot of money unless it’s a theater they trust, or a show they already know they like. While I never thought I’d advocate this, from a marketing standpoint, the Franciscan Center should have started with something like “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” You’d pack in the crowds, show them what you can do, and hopefully convince them to come back next time. “Robin Hood: The Musical” is going to be a hard sell anyway, let alone for an unknown theater, and let alone for $12 a ticket.
Now for the actual play, which I promise I have not been avoiding. The songs, by Karrol Cobb, are jaunty and fun, though the lyrics wander all over the spectrum from clever and rhymed-filled (“I’m not amazed the tariff’s raised — the sheriff’s merely tariff-crazed!”) to overly cute (the song just quoted is called “The Sheriff Raised the Tariff”; there’s also a play on the same-sounding “naughty” and “Nottingham”). Tony Cobb’s script tells the familiar story well enough, with humor and excitement.
The performance itself, sure enough, seems like the first production at a new theater. Everyone speaks too quietly, except for the Sheriff of Nottingham, who yells everything. The singing voices are generally very good; the acting is just OK, nearly every actor saying his lines straight out to the audience.
Kids should find it fun, resembling as it does an animated Disney film.
The cast wins points for enthusiasm. Eric Blood, Jonny Grey Robinson, Leonard Wilkerson and Brittany Hatch, in the lead roles, show promise.
Bottom line: Should you go see it? Not for $12, no. Two-for-one coupons are readily available, and as I said, they seem to be willing to make a deal with you on the admission price anyway. I say, go and support the show by giving them an audience to perform for. (Nothing’s worse than doing a show for no one.) It’s worth your time and at least a few dollars to support up-and-coming local talent.
I learned something important with this review: Stick to your instincts and don't cave in.
This was a no-win situation for me. Like I said, I had no intention of reviewing the show at first. I figured I would see it and if it was especially good, THEN I would write a review. But if it was bad, I just wouldn't say anything. (With other, more established theaters, of course, they get a review of every show whether it's good or not.)
But then people started harassing me, wanting to see a review. Two people even submitted their own reviews, apparently thinking we'll just run reviews from people off the street. I was afraid that if I DIDN'T review the show, readers would think we were slacking off and not doing our duty, and wouldn't understand the reasons for it. So I decided that when I saw it, I would write a review, no matter what. That's what the readers seemed to want.
So I reviewed it, and was as generous and careful as I could be. Naturally, it pissed people off. The director e-mailed me, insisting I must have been distracted by the show starting late and the loud music playing downstairs (neither of which distracted me, and neither of which I mentioned in the review). And we also got this letter to the editor:
After reading Eric Snider's article on the production of "Robin Hood" last night, I awoke this morning determined to give another viewpoint. I live behind the Franciscan Center and have seen the production. My only comment [which will then be followed by many other comments] is that Mr. Snider must have come on a particularly bad night [unintended meaning: "Every night is bad; he must have come on a PARTICULARLY bad night"] or he was suffering from indigestion.
I found the show delightful and charming. Snider's allusions to being unprofessional were uncalled for. [Actually, as I said, many people "called for" me to do a review.] I see many shows in the valley and most of them are not up to the level of this production. [I hate to belittle someone because of his opinion, but where is he seeing plays? Someone's backyard? He's obviously not going to the Hale Center, Provo Theatre Company, or even the Villa Playhouse if MOST of the plays he sees are not as good as this one.] I know for a fact that each theater "papers" (fills the theater with free passes) several shows to get an audience. [I didn't say letting people in free was unprofessional. I just said they did it, and it was apparently because no one wanted to pay $12 to see the show.]
I also found in "Robin Hood" a spirit of adventure and freshness that is seldom seen in any theater today. I applaud the writers as well as the producers.
As for the hard seats, The Franciscan Center is an historical site much like the Provo Tabernacle. I have seen many productions at the Tabernacle without a mention of the hard benches. [Does he mean HE hasn't mentioned them, or that I haven't? He's right that I haven't, but that's only because I've never reviewed anything there.] The people at the Franciscan Center are working hard to preserve the history as well as doing a service for the community. I would like to see them succeed. Unfortunately, now most of the valley will think that "Robin Hood" is a sort of OK over-priced "Disney animated feature" that is begging for an audience. [And most of the valley will be right, because it IS all those things.] Too bad most of the valley will also miss one of the better productions in town. Nice work, Snider. [I picture him saying "Snider" the same way Jerry used to say "Newman" on "Seinfeld."]
So I don't review the show, and people get testy. I review the show, and people get testier. The result? A firm declaration: Any theater having done fewer than two shows will not be reviewed unless the THEATER (not the readers) specifically requests a review -- and even then, it will be accompanied by a note saying, "It is Daily Herald policy not to review theater companies until they have done a few shows, to give them time to get on their feet before we introduce critical commentary on their productions. However, [name of theater] specifically requested we review this show."
Obviously, you can't please everyone. But I would like to please SOMEONE, at least occasionally.