Once upon a Mormon :

the battle of the Broadway transfer.

I was interested this afternoon to read a host of 3 and 4 star reviews for Book of Mormon, the American juggernaut that recently transferred to The West End after incredible success on Broadway. Their advertising campaign has been hugely impressive. Posters lined the walls of every tube station and images were splattered across the front covers of newspapers long before the cast was announced and as a result the show is sold out for months.

My stagey twitter feed is full of hype for the show with glowing praise from everyone, but the critics have spoken and I’m yet to read a five star review.

There’s no shame in that, I’ve seen spectacular shows that only achieved four stars and I’m sure Mormon is a fantastic show, one that I’m very excited to see. But reading the reviews I started to question what outside factors might have affected the critics. Could the huge hype for this show persuade some reviewers to take a more negative view point to offer an alternate opinion, or simply to stand out amongst the other glowing reviews?

My questioning is more than likely a result of the fact that I’m staring down the barrel of a press night of our very own for The Hired Man and wondering what a group of seasoned theatre critics will make of our show.

Of course, we tell ourselves not to care, that we shouldn’t focus on reviews good or bad, but it’s difficult to ignore them altogether. At their best, reviews can be a great way to drive a production forward, perhaps instilling the cast with a confidence that allows them to commit to their performances in a whole new way.

That was certainly the case with Seussical, a show that I loved but feared no one else would. After a string of positive reviews (never achieving five stars, i might add) the confidence from within the cast and the level of performance grew and grew. I suspect that your average theatre-goer wouldn’t spot this shift in confidence, but the feeling within us was significant. Positive reviews can take away that niggling doubt and give you a sense that what you’re doing in really working for your audience.

Real feedback is hard to come by. It’s hard to find a reliable source. Of course your mum will love it and even your most hard-to-please friends will try to be as positive as possible, but critics owe you nothing. They watch the show, you hope, through totally unbiased eyes and review it accordingly. They don’t owe you, or your show, anything. And that’s as scary as it is necessary.

So has the Book of Mormon hype driven the reviewers to shy away from awarding the full five stars?

In Stark contrast to Mormon’s advertising campaign, ‘Once’ has sneaked into The West End practicality unnoticed and I’ll be watching with interest to see what this show is awarded.

Where Mormon is a self professed big hitter, with an advertising budget to match, Once has been almost apologetic in it’s approach. Posters for the show have only just begun to spring up in tube stations and as a result you can still buy tickets here, there and everywhere for this Broadway smash, and I urge you to do so before the reviews make this show a sell out.

I’m happy to predict, fairly confidently, that Once will receive five stars across the board and I haven’t even seen it! Us Brits love an underdog and while Book of Mormon has spent the last six months telling us how bloody wonderful it is, Once has shuffled in the back door, hood up, guitar on it’s back, happy to be the dark horse in this competition for best Broadway transfer. They are the surprise package and I can’t help but think that the critics will want to give them a fantastic write up, knowing that they need the reviews to fill the theatre.

Just like the film, Once the musical is quietly breaking hearts outside of the mainstream public eye, but i suspect that’s about to change. When the reviews hit the papers and the buzz begins to build, Once will be the West End hit it deserves to be.

If you can’t get to the show anytime soon, buy yourself the original film and prepare to fall in love with a beautiful movie as well as an incredible song-writer in Glen Hansard. It grabbed me a number of years a go and if anyone asks what my favourite movie is, I’ll always reply “Once”. Not only because it sounds cooler than saying “Back to the Future Two”, but also because it means I might introduce someone new to this incredible movie. A genuine cult classic.

Make sure you catch Once AND Book of Mormon if you can sniff out a ticket. Both, I’m sure, are fantastic shows and ones I’ll be aching to see once I’m back in London.

For now though, I’ll bid you farewell. I have my own press night to focus on next week and I’d best stop speculating before I drive myself mad. Check back soon for a blog featuring Hired Man reviews and some gorgeous production photographs. I’ve got a feeling this will become a very special show to me.

Take care one and all. Be happy. x