You've heard of metatheatre. Well today I bring you the metareview. Rather like a play within a play, this is a review of a review within a review (sounds complicated? Don't worry, it's not). Basically, I review the performance, all the while reviewing another review of said performance which I thought missed the mark. The production in question is a revival of Gershwin's musical Of Thee, I Sing brought to us by Squabbalogic and the Sydney Philharmonia Choir. After viewing a performance at the Sydney Opera House, Peter McCallum denounced it on the 28th of September last year for its 'offensive misogyny' and 'tedious triteness'. A bold choice, it was definitely going to be a love it or hate it affair, but here I think the Sydney Morning Herald reviewer is unfair in his remarks, missing the lighter side (and quite plausibly the whole point) of this production.
Let's begin by having a look at what happens in this musical to spark such disdain. Transported back to the 1930's we open with a lively 'Wintergreen for President', introducing our protagonist and a central so-thought serial misogynist. In a bid to win the hearts of those throughout the United States (and thus win the election), it is decreed that the charismatic presidential candidate John P. Wintergreen shall marry the winner of a beauty contest. However, by a chance meeting he falls in love with Mary Turner, for she can bake corn muffins. A distraught Diana Devereaux (the winner of said pageant) threatens dire international consequences when it is alleged that she is the illegitimate descendant of Napoleon. However, the president is saved from impeachment when Mary announces she is having a baby and the ineffectually throttle-able vice president Throttlebottom now marries Diana as his 'duty'.
What part of this sounds like it should be taken literally? Just about none of it. So why can't McCallum see the satire? In a world where Trumps can exist, it seems to this reviewer that this is the exact kind of lampooning of American politics that we need, making it just as relevant now as it was then. However, I am not the first to think this, and although McCallum alludes to this point, he simply brushes it off. With his main criticism being the misogyny, of course this can't be ignored, but his critique refuses to realise the time for which it was created, a time which treated women in a very different fashion to today. Upon viewing this musical, I don't believe any audience member would think it was set in the present day, that much is clear, and this distances them from the treatment therein. Furthermore, even at the most basic level, misogyny entails the mistreatment and a general contempt towards women. As such, John P. Wintergreen does not conform to this ideal, as whilst he may initially fall in love with Mary for such a ridiculous reason as the baking of corn muffins, he subsequently treats her with complete devotion, opting rather to be impeached than leave his beloved.
Ultimately, one could argue about this issue until the cows came home, but one must take stock of the production as a whole, weighing up each of its components and considering the context of its creation. Whilst I will agree with him on the point that the amplification was a bit off, with the volume too high and the possible balance forsaken, I feel I must disagree on the revival's overall worth. The actors were slick and fast-paced, with Courtney Glass' lyricism a breath of fresh air. The Sydney Philharmonia Choir act as the exuberant chorus in this quick-witted poke at American politics and their involvement only adds to the experience (such as their quick clapping as an excited crowd which was an unforeseen delight that left me in stitches!). Beyond this, the songs themselves are just too catchy, you won't be able to get them out of your head for weeks!
Oftentimes I think reviewers just need something to hate on because the other things they're seeing are so good and it's ruining their impartiality. I mean, you can't like everything, right? In this way, I find that I too like too many things, but I won't hate on something simply because I need to up my 'dislike' quota.
Overall, Of Thee, I Sing didn't warrant such a harsh dismissal, it was far from a fiasco (and I am not just saying that because my mother was part of the Sydney Philharmonia choir - really, I'm not). Whether viewing this in the 1930's or 2015, there is still a pivotal point to be made here and it makes it in an entertaining way. It didn't win the Pulitzer Prize for drama for nothing.
His Rating: 1/5
My Rating: 8/10