Tuesday, June 11, 2019

When You are the Outlier

Recently I read an article in the New York Times titled "Free Yourself from the Wisdom of the Crowd." The article talks about five star ratings and how we rely on strangers when we are making purchasing decisions, generally through online ratings. Given that only a small percentage of people write reviews, this can be risky business.

Author Joann Chen quotes Matthew Salganik, author of "Bit by Bit: Social Research in a Digital Age" who says: "Knowing more about what other people are doing and thinking can help us all find the best things faster but it can also lead to stronger fads where people are following people who are following people who are following people."

Although the subject matter, consumer online shopping, is different in many ways, the article resonated with me on a topic completely different -- the musical "Hamilton."


I should give you a little background here, so you know where I'm coming from. I go to the theatre  lot. I was a theatre major in college. I've seen numerous professional companies, including shows on Broadway, London's West End and countless professional touring companies. I go less now than I used to -- it's way too expensive.

But when "Hamilton" came to town (ticket prices starting at $125 and up) I knew I had to see it.

Because everyone was seeing (or had seen) it. Some of my very good theatre loving friends had seen it many times, often traveling to distant cities to see it. (Think about it -- the theatre ticket, travel, accommodations, just to see a show. I say this, but I timed our visit to London to see "Company," so as far as travel for theatre goes, that one is up there!) And more to the point, just about everyone loved this show. Loved it over and over. Everyone from professional theatre critics to longtime theatre-going friends to enthusiastic amateurs who seldom attend the theatre.

I wanted to love it like everyone else. I wanted to say it was the best thing I'd ever seen. I wanted to be able to say to everyone I knew, "You've got to see it, you just have to!"


I was falling into the category of the person who reads the five-star online review. Just assuming it would be the best because everyone says it is. Maybe you've seen it and agree. From the bottom of your heart you agree it would be worth every penny of $172 for a seat. (Good seats, I might add). And I don't want to detract from any enjoyment of the show for anyone. I'm glad you enjoyed it because I know you probably paid a lot for the tickets! I feel for anyone who also was taking their kids and spending in the $500 zone for a family to see it, because you could do a lot with those dollars. And I admire you, too, for taking your kids to live theatre! It's the only way it will survive -- building an audience while they are young who appreciate the excitement of real drama happening in front of their very eyes.

But I am one of the outliers.

I am not quite a "Hamilton hater" (this is a wonderful article in the Chicago Tribune on this topic). But I didn't love it. And I've been agonizing on why, having discussions with some who are like-minded and others who are big fans.

I really did love the set. (My friend Jan took this one!)


And I admire the work tremendously. I think the writing and concept is truly genius. A (mostly) rap musical about a historical figure most don't know except for his photo on a ten dollar bill and the history surrounding Alexander Hamilton seems, well, dull. And yet, Hamilton's life and the events in the musical are anything but. The show has the power to reach a group of people for whom going to the theatre is a rare, elitist thing. And, it has the power to bring music that the theatre-going norm (and I'm talking about the audience we saw, which was largely 50-plus white people) to a new audience. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creative genius behind the show, deserves the kudos he gets.

(Rick said it reminded him of a Harlem Globetrotters game where the people doing the work were almost entirely minorities and the people watching were white.) 

But the show I saw wasn't the CD I listened to before attending. (And if you are thinking of doing so, you'd better listen to it a lot and commit the words to memory.) The CD was crisp, clear. The music well mixed. The orchestra didn't overpower the vocals, especially the raps. It's not my genre and yet I found myself liking the CD very much.


The show (which is almost exactly the CD and all sung) is at the mercy of its performers and orchestra. As I struggled to hear over the orchestra, I wasn't able to sit back and let it really move me. I was working too hard. There were serious diction issues with some of the performers even when you could hear them (not everyone felt that but I wonder -- were they the people who had committed the show to memory? I would bet yes.) There was so much going on onstage that I felt overwhelmed and couldn't focus. Too many dancers, too many words, too much, too much.

And yes, there were a few real standout performers. I will give them their due for they saved it for me. Unfortunately, Hamilton wasn't one of them. There are other things that bothered me that I wouldn't hesitate to mention except it's probably not relevant to you so I'll skip it. But that wasn't my only criticism.

But as I said, I was the outlier. The audience leapt to their feet at the end (apart from Jan and me, and eventually I did because when you have people standing in front of you, you can't see what's going on.) It certainly was a hard-working cast and they deserved applause. And it's pretty obvious to me our group were the outliers of the audience. You can recognize this in yourself when you keep wondering "how much longer can this go on" when everyone else is going "oh, I hope it never ends."


As we were walking out, I said, "I am so tired." And Mark said, "You haven't been dancing for three hours." To which I replied, "No, I've just been assaulted for three hours." And surprisingly, a woman walking out overhead me and said, "I know just what you mean."

I wonder -- is it all the advance hype? I think that plays a part -- all those five-star ratings. If all I knew was that it was a rap musical about Alexander Hamilton and it won the Pulitzer and the Tony, would I have liked it more? I think so. But knowing it was "Best thing ever!" -- that's pretty subjective.


It makes me nervous to really recommend anything with that awed "WOW! You have GOT to go." I've said that before, because it was what I believed. But all I will say from now on is, "I really loved it and thought it was the best thing I'd been to in ages (or the worst) but it's up to you."

Because things really are subjective, aren't they? As Jan said several days later, "I think opera is a work of genius too, but I don't like it." And then we had another glass of wine because just talking about it got us agitated!


We can admire what we don't care for and respect it for what it is. In this case, I admire the huge educational outreach of Hamilton to schools and young people and their willingness to make a large number of ticket available at a $10 rate through a daily lottery. They can afford it -- but that doesn't mean they have to do it. I admire the scope of the writing. There's a boatload of info packed in there, a number of fun or good musical comedy songs,  and lots and lots (and lots) of words that rhyme. I know how hard that is. Indeed, it has me working on my own rap musical entitled "The Mueller Report." Seriously. The prologue is finished. I'm now starting work on the second section, titled "Volume I." Because I've got the time and I can do this kind of thing. (And it's a darned good way to read a pretty fascinating report! As much as I say I hate to recommend anything after my Hamilton experience, I will say love it or hate it, every American should read it.)

None of us felt we got our money's worth out of the show, even though we were all glad we saw it. If I won one of their $10 lottery tickets I would have returned, hoping to see more. And maybe that's why people go so often. Once is not enough when there is too much to take in.

If you haven't seen it, I do hope you enjoy it more than we did, that you find it worth the ticket price. (Our combined ticket price could have bought us a nice little B&B weekend with a really good dinner. In season so think that on through.) I really want you to like live theatre. I want you to LOVE it. I want you to go enough so you know what YOU like and what you don't.

But don't just take anyone's recommendation for your opinion, including mine. Love or hate it or anything in-between. But let your review be your own.

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47 comments:

Valerie-Jael said...

I think it's always better to rely on your own judgement. I know my own taste and likes best! Hugs, Valerie

Linda said...

I felt that way about the Book of Mormon. Didn't love!

So sorry that it wasn't the best and that you felt your money could have easier been enjoyed elsewhere.

I love reading reviews and count on them a ton. I'll have to rethink that.

Terra said...

Your post is full of things for me to think about, beyond Hamilton and more generally, about how five star or one star reviews influence me. I use reviews as guides for buying books and for hiring local people to work around my house (electrician, etc.). Sometimes a one star book review will get me to buy the book, since when they describe what they hate, I realize that is what I love. Thought provoking post.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

I haven't seen Hamilton and don't know when I will - maybe many years from now when there's less hype? I haven't even heard a song from the musical either. I had a hard time understanding some of the dialogue in Rent when I saw it - maybe because of diction issues or the orchestra being too loud? It definitely takes away from the experience when you can't understand what is being said.

I do love that Hamilton has resulted in people taking in theater that wouldn't have in the past. My brother took my nephew to see it in Chicago. I am sure that cost a pretty penny but I love that they did that. They both enjoyed it.

I tend to not enjoy things that have been really really hyped. They just seem destined to disappoint. At least that is the case with books. If I wait too long to read it, my expectation keeps building based on what others are saying and then it just can't live up to those expectations.

Miss Val's Creations said...

We have had similar experiences after reading online reviews for various things. These days I do things without high expectations so I usually end up being impressed. It would have drove me crazy not being able to hear the actors. Wine makes everything better, doesn't it?

Lowcarb team member said...

On-line reviews etc. can sometimes help … be a guide, but it always comes down to what we the individual thinks.

All the best Jan

David M. Gascoigne, said...

Never having even heard of "Hamilton" I feel I am ill-equipped to comment, Jeanie, but I am sorry that you didn't get your money's worth. I should say that the mere fact of it being rap music would deter me from going, to say nothing of the ticket price. Like you we go to the theatre and the opera less than we used to, although we still enjoy the local chamber music society at very reasonable admission. I have a rule that I never indicate to others that they have to see a show, or buy something, or go to a lecture. I tell them how much I enjoyed it (or not) and leave it at that. The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra often provides a quartet at local libraries at no charge and we enjoy those performances. We recently had an evening with Mozart which was quite delightful.

FrenchGardenHouse said...

I am sorry it was disappointing too! These days it's such an investment to see a show. And I know what you mean about reviews. It's why when I try to read both the high and the low reviews, and am always a little flabbergasted that the same product or restaurant can go from "worst ever" to "best ever!" This is a great post, it makes such a strong point to be self motivated when choosing anything...because all of us have different needs, tastes and wishes. xo Lidy

William Kendall said...

As I dislike both musicals and the rap- hip hop genres, I would rather crawl through a mile of broken glass than see Hamilton. :)

Misadventures of Widowhood said...

Thank you for making me quit feeling guilty because I didn't sign up for a trip to Chicago to see Hamilton. It got so many good reviews that I felt I should be going but I've seen capsules of the show on TV and had too much trouble understanding the fast-flowing words.

Karen said...

I have to agree with your issues with the sound quality. I quit going to live vocal performances ages ago, for the most part. I love an orchestral event, or folk music, but a "musical" is just way out of range for my ears.

Sandra Cox said...

I am learning about Hamilton through reading about Washington.
Sorry you didn't enjoy the musical more. I'm sure that was disappointing.

Amy at Ms. Toody Goo Shoes said...

This is SPOT ON, as far as Hamilton goes. Like you, I see a lot of shows. I saw Hamilton last July, and felt like I was almost the last of everyone to do so. I admired all of the things that you admired, but I left feeling guilty that I wasn't as wowed as I thought I'd be. I attributed it to the fact that it could never live up to my expectations after all the hype. I went with 7 other people who LOVED IT. Three weeks before, I saw Come From Away for the second time,and that remains my favorite Broadway show of all time. PS - I agree with you about the Mueller report, too! Thank you for the blog follow - I'm so happy to have become acquainted with you, and have followed you as well!

Sami said...

I'm not a Musical type of person, so probably wouldn't go see Hamilton, but I agree with your opinion about reviews.
Sometimes when choosing a restaurant to eat at or hotel to stay, I read the reviews and am amazed at the disparity of comments, some love it, others hate it, so I've decided I won't put much weight on other's opinions.

Iris Flavia said...

Oh, that is very sad! Rap isn´t mine, either, or crowds for that matter.
I remember we went to "Stomp!" a couple of years ago. Actually it was quite awesome but many people clapped (for my understanding) at the wrong times etc, so in the end it was more of a disappointment.

Pamela said...

I love this post and I agree with you! Each person needs to decide things on her own.

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I've seen several live musicals in my little town (actually the largest city in the state), and I often have trouble with the diction. I don't understand the words, even though I know the story line in advance. I think Hamilton would be too expensive to even consider, much less buy a ticket. Enjoyed your post, though.

natalia20041989 said...

I don't rely much on gilm or theatre reviews, but I rwad them whenever I am buying some product ☺

My name is Erika. said...

I agree about reading though reviews. That is one thing about blog reviews, at least you know the person writing a tad bit. I haven't seen Hamilton. Do you think it could have been that particular performance(s) at this theatre? But I have had that experience with some things. I think the hype always makes our expectations so much higher and we feel the disappointment more. Happy Wednesday. Hugs-Erika

Pam Richardson said...

Jeanie, I appreciate your personal review. I haven’t seen Hamilton, but so many have raved over it. I do love theater, but don’t get the opportunity to go as often as I would like. Have a wonderful Wednesday!

NanaDiana said...

I love, love, love live theater. I was a costumer and sewed up a storm here for our live theater which is pretty well-known in WI. I love musicals and all sorts of theater. That being said, there have been several shows that get rave reviews and I wonder what those people saw that I missed. I guess I have not been brave enough to post a review that says "ho-hum"". lol Good for you for doing so.

I am glad to read a "real" review by someone that knows theater and so can honestly compare it to other shows, etc.

Keep those honest reviews coming.....xo Diana

Mae Travels said...

You have really offered a lot to think about here, both about theater performances and about reviews in general. It's really too bad the experience of seeing this highly regarded production let you down.

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

eileeninmd said...

Hello,

First I must say I think the prices for plays are outrageous. I have not seen Hamilton and I doubt if I will ever see it. I read reviews on books and there are times where the review is right on and other times I totally disagree. Everyone has their likes and dislikes and are entitled to their opinions. Wishing you a happy day!

Victoria Zigler said...

I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it as much as a lot of people seem to have.

I find it's best to go in to something without high hopes, because there's less chance of being disappointed that way. I have found myself not enjoying something as much as many others with similar tastes did several times in the past. I've also had the reverse happen, where I've loved something, and others I know can't understand why.

Sandra at Maison De Jardin said...

Wonderful post, Jeanie. You have provided much information for one to think about. Thank you.

Joanne Huffman said...

I really enjoyed Hamilton when I saw it in Chicago (liked it much more than I liked Book of Mormon). I had listened to the album several times before we went because it was before I got my hearing aids and I knew I would have trouble hearing everything. I love reading reviews of movies, plays, books, and tv shows. I think it's like having a long distance discussion about them; but I don't think I depend on reviews - I enjoy the ones I disagree with as much as th ones I agree with as long as they all tell me their reasoning (case in point, I didn't hate the ending of Game of Thrones but enjoyed the reviews that panned it as long as they backed up their opinions). I enjoyed reading this post.

Tanza Erlambang said...

I get great lesson from reading your post about important of our own opinion...

Thank you for sharing your thought......5 stars rating!

Judy at GoldCountryCottage said...

Jeanie, I have only been to local theatre. The biggest one I have seen is the Lion King in Sacramento, a little bigger than local. I had heard and read it was excellent and it was!. I have read critiques of movies that were bad and when I saw them I enjoyed them and vise versa. I have never liked any Tom Cruise movie which no one agrees with me that I know of. Yes, I have heard nothing but good about Hamilton, but I do agree that when the music is louder than the artists, that is not good and I wouldn't like it. Thanks for your visit to me. We did have a great time at the beach..Happy Wednesday..xxoJudy

Pam said...

I have been to a few plays, WICKED was my fave I think, falls in the Oz thing. I heard all good about Hamilton but I have not seen it.

Sandra Cox said...

I would like to see it...if the tickets were more reasonably priced.

Lynne said...

I love that you always give me something to think about.
I haven’t seen Hamilton.
I want to see it . . . and still want to!.
Not only am I thinking about how influenced I am about a review . . .
also thinking about how many (or not) I have influenced with MY reviews.
Great post Jeanie!!!

gomsu1988 said...

I'm an outlier too. My eyes closed during parts. Because we bought in a group, my ticket was only $90, so I didn't feel so bad. I liked and got more out of reading My Dear Hamilton.

Marilyn Miller said...

I love your review, though I haven't spent the money to see it. Many years ago we often had free tickets to stage productions and I loved going. I still would go, but just too expensive. My husband will read the reviews on movies and say we should go and I say why do you believe all those reviews? If the topic is something that intrigues me I am going to watch it and decide for myself.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

I really like your measured take on this, Jeanie! And I so agree with your assessment. I'm an outlier, too.

sepatuholig-Grace Njio said...

I rely on reviews, unless its my fave author! I think that I want to be entertained as I read and love to be taught a few things. other than that; yeah.. goodreads has great review!
https://sepatuholig.blogspot.com/
ig @grace_njio
other ig @wonky.pots

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

I found decades ago that I do walk to a different drummer in terms of likes. I love live theater but haven't gone in a long white as I can't afford it. I also have found when watching the Tony's every year that lots of modern musicals don't do anything for me. The crowd on TV is yelling and carrying on and I'm thinking that song is alien to me and I'd never hum that. I copy the Tony's on the DVR and re-watch several times fast forwarding thru numbers that leave me cold and going straight through to the winners for me. I have the same problem with movies. I guess it's a sign of my age but most modern block busters are not worth the time and money for me. It seems to be all blowing things up (action adventure) w/o much good character development. I say watch what you like and leave the rest to someone else.

Unknown said...

I agree with all you said. We took our daughters (ages 45 & 49). It cost us $470. They liked it (one LOVED it). If you are the least bit hearing challenged (like us oldies)it was a disappointment. It was hard work more than pleasure, and we were exhausted. I loved King George, but the rest not so much. We always try to find a positive because live theater is so exciting. The energy was outstanding, but SO busy, my eyes got bloodshot.We could hardly wait for dinner and that soothing glass of wine.

Jenny Woolf said...

T and I went to see the Book of Mormon with 2 other people, and it was about 2/3 of the way through before I realised we weren't going to get to the "good" bits... because actually I didn't like it very much. Just like what you said, it was so professional and well done but we thought it was patronising, simple minded and actually quite racist. Nobody quite wanted to say so specially since the theatre was packed and the rest of the audience were on their feet cheering.... oh well. On the other hand, haven't you so often seen WONDERFUL performances in little tiny theatres with actors who are getting paid a pittance. Such a lot of incredible acting talent out there, and I don't think the kudos always go to the best by any means!

Sandra Cox said...

Love the wine sign:) Hope you have a wonderful day.

Anne Clare said...

This is exactly why I am leery about seeing movies that "everyone" loves- more times than not, I'm less impressed, because I find myself analyzing more than I would otherwise. It's much more fun to just watch and be pleasantly surprised :)

Evi Erlinda said...

In this part, I'm an outlier too.

Have a wonderful week end!

shoreacres said...

I never turn to online reviews, except for camera lenses, photo processing software, and such. With those, I can learn a good bit in the process of reading the reviews, especially since they're mostly technical specs. But restaurants, or movies, or B&Bs? I just don't. For one thing, the number of paid reviewers online is substantial, and there are so many people trying to build up or tear down given businesses, it just isn't worth it.

I finally broke through the "what do others say?" syndrome with Brussels sprouts. I hate the things. People kept telling me I would love them if only I'd grill them, braise them, wrap them in bacon, or toss them with this or that sauce. I tried, and finally came to terms with the truth: I still hated them. So be it.

As for entertainments -- anything that costs more than $20 isn't on my agenda. Besides, so much of "you HAVE to see" this or that reminds me of junior high, when no one wanted to admit being the one who hadn't seen, worn, or otherwise adopted the latest.

Mary K.- The Boondocks Blog said...

Jeanie I have never seen Hamilton. But I have come to it through my kids who play the soundtrack endlessly. It is the most infectious thing I have ever listened to. My personal favorite is King George. Having said that I feel no need to go see it since most of it is all about the music and the genius of Manuel Lin Miranda's writing. I am not a fan of rap or hip hop but this transcends the genre and hits home for me.

And as a bonus I am slowly getting through the biography on which this was inspired.

Prims By The Water said...

I have not seen it and so sad you did not enjoy it for the price you paid. Janice

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

A very thoughtful post and one I can relate to. Sometimes people go to the theater not because they particularly are fans but because it is what everyone is talking about. I have a feeling Hamilton would not live up to the hype without the original cast members that are so important when reviews start coming out.

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

Great post, Jeanie, not only about your views of this production, but the advise about not seeing something or buying something based solely on other people’s comments. I used to see a lot of NYC productions many years ago when living in NJ and waiting in the TKTS discount line. Tickets were costly, but so much less so then and so I would go to see shows I might not have selected. Surprisingly, I got lucky in that most were enjoyed by me. I wasn’t going to see them on reviews, so much as could I afford a ticket. Your recent theatre experience was more costly, but than its been many years later than mine. You did get something out of the show because you have given your blog readers some valuable points, so thank you.

Danielle L Zecher said...

I'm actually glad to see that you didn't love Hamilton. I haven't seen it, and honestly have zero interest in seeing it. Honestly, with all the hype about it, I've kind of felt like I must be some kind of uncultured redneck for not wanting to see it. So it makes me feel a lot better that you didn't love it.

I've been the putlier before (I loathe the book The Help, and I'm pretty sure I'm the only one), and it does kind of make you question yourself.

And I kind of know what you mean about the CD, but in reverse. Cats was one of the first live performances I saw. I think I was 11, and I still consider the best performance I've ever seen. That performance of Memories is the only time I've ever gotten chills from music. The CD we ended up with was a different performance and nowhere near as good.

As far as reviews, I try really hard, though I don't always succeed, to ignore the one star and the five star reviews. Very little is perfect and very little is the worst ever. In my opinion, the 2 - 4 star reviews paint a much more realistic picture of whatever it is.

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