Percy Jackson is the title character in a series of young adult fantasy novels by Rick Riordan. I have never read any of these books; even when I was writing my play Dragon’s Breath, and binging on YA paranormal books as research, this series wasn’t on my reading list. There were film adaptations of books in this series, which came out in 2010 and 2013; I didn’t see either of them. I was therefore blissfully unaware (I’ve been busy) that a musical adaptation of these books was opening on Broadway. I’m not the target audience, and I don’t know anybody in the show. And judging from the harsh reviews the production received, I have no particular reason to think I should see this show.
They may be the best thing on Broadway right now.
Not the best show on Broadway, mind you. As I mentioned, the reviews for this production came out last week, and they’re not particularly good. (Here’s the New York Times for an example.) Of course, since this is an adaptation of a series of popular books – of existing “intellectual property,” to put it in vulgar business terms – and has a built-in audience, there’s no particular reason for them to care about the reviews, or respond to them.
And yet, respond they did.
Whoever manages this show’s official Twitter account - @LTMusical, if you’re curious - did indeed respond to those reviews. They didn’t dismiss them, however. They didn’t use the sort of reflexive “you just don’t get it” that is often the default response to negative feedback. No, the response is actually – thoughtful! Intelligent! Here – let me quote it here if you don’t feel like venturing into the blasted hellsite of Twitter:
“Let’s talk reviews. we know y’all are upset about them, and the instinct is to be mad at the critics, but here’s the thing: a critic’s job isn’t to tell you if art is “good” or “bad,” it’s to help you understand how *you* might experience that art. And honestly, the critics pretty much did that! both the negative and positive reviews we got talked about the scrappiness of the show, the faithfulness to the book, the fact that it’s geared toward young people & families. all true things! we’re not for everybody—that’s okay. We can waste time being upset at critics for doing their jobs, or we can all invest our time in making sure that the people our show is for know that it’s here for them. “gotta know where the real fight lies,” demigods—not in tearing critics down, but in lifting each other up.”
Remember, this show, and its social media account, is specifically aimed at tweens. And here it is giving them a smart, clear tutorial in how to critically evaluate the criticism of others. This is something that most adults – that plenty of adults who work professionally in this industry – have trouble with. People either slavishly follow the recommendations of others, or reject them out of hand, vehemently. Our aesthetic opinions become yet another manifestation of the bitter, vicious tribalism we’re living through these days. Unless, of course, you take your cues from the Percy Jackson musical’s Twitter feed.
(And let’s not forget, the actual name of this account is “The Percy Jackskeleton BOOsical is ON BROADWAY!” Because it’s October and you need your spooooky October Twitter name. One more point in their favor.)
So kudos to you, anonymous social media intern for the Percy Jackson musical. May the world be just a little bit better for your efforts, and the next show that pays you for your services be one I’d be a little more inclined to see.
Posted on October 21, 2019
by Michael C. O'Day