The Playgoer: The "Variety" Mess

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Monday, January 09, 2006

The "Variety" Mess

Superfluities' George Hunka reports (by way of UK's The Stage) on the apparent disimissal of critic Matt Wolf as the London critic for Variety over a suprisingly public disagreement with his editor Peter Bart over Billy Elliot. After Woolf gave the show a thumbs-down, Bart--a man, let's face it, with a lot more experience in Hollywood than in theatre, to put it midly--went on the record in his own pages declaring:

Variety's critic greeted the show with a fusillade of words like 'maudlin' and 'lazy,' with Elton John's music described as its 'weakest link.' This caught me off guard, since, in my opinion, Billy Elliot will clearly rank as one of the best musicals of its generation. Not since the opening of The Producers has a show left its audience on such a high.

Gee, not since 2001? Sure that's not reaching too far back, Peter?

While the bullying of Wolf couldn't be any more baldfaced, I do feel compelled to wonder if Variety doesn't have a right to define itself as a very specific kind of trade publications, more concerned with commercial prospects and prognostications than serious aesthetic criticism? If Bart took the opportunity to reconsider why Variety has critics in the first place, then I could respect that. But if he's just going to replace Wolf with a hack toady who will be called a "critic" but just bow to Bart's own personal tastes (or, worse the tastes of the producers--let alone The Producers!), then this is very, very disturbing.

Is it that unimaginable that, one day, even the blessed New York Times--in its mission to promote B'way at all costs--could do the same to a critic?

3 comments:

George Hunka said...

Not to mention the peculiar treatment accorded to these large West End and Broadway productions. Marilyn Stasio's slam of the Jean Cocteau's Candida (read it here) is far more negative than Wolf's review of Billy Elliot was, but Bart's not calling for her head, and the Cocteau has a lot more to lose from a regular reviewer than an audience-pleaser like Billy Elliot. If only Elton John had played the Rev. James Morell, the Cocteau wouldn't have had Stasio's wrath to contend with.

Anonymous said...

This is very sad. Wolf is a wonderful critic. Perhaps the best "mainstream" critic writing in the US. But he will still be covering London theatre for the International Herald Tribune. And David Benedict, replacing Wolf for Variety, may have liked Billy Elliott, but, as a former arts editor for the Independent (UK), he's a very smart man of the left.

What will most be missing a US perspective on UK work.

Scott Walters said...

The NY Times already did it: back in the 70s, it replaced the splendid and knowledgeable critic Stanley Kaufman (now the film critic at the New Republic) because Broadway producers said his demanding reviews hurting business!