Mar 11, 2010

Coming To Our Consensus

Isaac and I didn't create StageGrade solely to dilute the disproportionate power of the New York Times' theater critics, but this week's openings have given a few choice illustrations of how this can work: Today, Ben Brantley gave Kander & Ebb's new musical The Scottsboro Boys arguably its worst review (I graded it as a D+), while the consensus of critics, by my lights, is closer to A-. And earlier this week, Charles Isherwood gave Irish Rep's Candida a pretty good drubbing (another D+), while our median at StageGrade puts the consensus at B+. To be fair, neither review was, strictly speaking, an outlier; both critics gave full voice to objections that were raised by some of their colleagues, even if the balance of opinion largely tilted the other way. But this seems to me a valuable corrective service.

Lest you think our efforts always result in grade inflation, check out the page for Happy Now?, of which Isherwood's Times review is among a minority of full-throated admirers. And lest you think we're picking on the Times' top two critics, consider Wilborn Hampton's outlying opinion of last year's Confidence Man. Finally, this median-grading doesn't just neutralize outlying views published by the Grey Lady: If you only read the Wall Street Journal's Terry Teachout or the Voice's Michael Feingold on last year's Brief Encounter, for instance, you'd never know it landed robust raves from most critics.

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