A couple weeks ago I caught the closing performance of Ghost: the Musical at the Pantages in LA. I decided to check it out because I missed the show during its Broadway run in New York, but many of my friends saw and enjoyed it. I also make it a point to check out as many LA theater productions as I can in general in an attempt to satisfy my perpetually New York City-missing heart.
My friend Rachel described Ghost as a “good bad show”, and upon seeing it, I found her assessment to be very accurate. Is the score memorable? No. Are the choreography and video projections often completely over-the-top? Yes. Were the performers very talented? Yes. A quote from one of my favorite shows, [title of show], immediately came to mind: “totally derivative, but we’re singing the shit out of it!” But when it ended, did I wish I could get the past two and a half hours of my life back? No. While I did not go home and download the cast recording, I enjoyed watching the show, in a “so bad it’s good” Schadenfreude kind of way.
I love theater, and I have seen many productions since seeing my first Broadway show, Chicago, in 2002. At the most basic level, most shows I’ve seen can be divided into three categories: good shows (examples: Next to Normal, The Last 5 Years, Sweeney Todd), bad shows (examples: the Broadway adaptations of The Little Mermaid and The Addams Family) and shows that are objectively bad, yet subjectively enjoyable. These shows will not usually be winning any awards, but they can run for a long time and achieve commercial success. One current example is Rock of Ages, which has been running on Broadway since 2009. I first saw Rock of Ages because Tom Lenk from Buffy was in it (I am very predictable). The fact that part of their schtick is employing waiters to deliver alcoholic beverages to you at your seat during the performance says everything you need to know about how the show is meant to be enjoyed. The best good bad shows don’t take themselves too seriously. A far worse offense is a bad show that truly believes it’s good. I highly doubt the creators of Ghost thought they were making high art- they thought they were making a fun adaptation of a popular romance film with the opportunity for some cool walking-through-a-door special effects, and in that they succeeded. Meanwhile, a show like the short-lived Broadway adaptation of Catch Me If You Can was, in my opinion, a bad show that thought it was good. I will admit that I have abnormally strong feelings about this show, as you know if you’ve been unlucky enough to hear me rant about it, but I think it took itself a bit too seriously to just be a fun, campy, bad show. It did cause me to coin the phrase “Catch Me Syndrome”, which I enjoy using to describe shows where the majority of songs are sung center stage, directly to the audience with no attempt at staging, but I digress.
Nine times out of ten, I see a show because I want it to be good. I want to be moved, I want to be excited to download and listen to the music again, I want to be compelled to make a return trip. There is also a lot of subjectivity that goes into sorting shows into the three categories I mentioned above. I carefully chose my examples of “good” shows- I truly believe Next to Normal is a near-perfect show, possibly the most near-perfect of any musical written in the past decade, and considering it won a Pulitzer, I don’t think many disagree. I have personal favorite shows, like Spring Awakening and American Idiot, that I love dearly and mean a great deal to me personally, but I understand they are flawed and not every theatergoer considers them undeniably good. On the same note, I do not know anyone who considered The Little Mermaid (the only poor unfortunate souls in that theater belonged to the audience) to be a great theatrical achievement, and if you did, I’m sorry. But I have enjoyed myself at Ghost, Rock of Ages (the second time, which was free, and I’ll admit I had lower expectations and more margaritas),
Sister Act, Lysistrata Jones, Xanadu, and many more mediocre yet fun shows. With very few exceptions, I believe seeing any show is better than seeing no show at all.
What are your favorite good bad shows?