BROOKE GLADSTONE: On July 24th, New York Newsday printed an unfavorable review of Moving Out, the Twyla Tharp production with music by Billy Joel, now at the Schubert Theater in Chicago. Actually what it published was the review in its sister publication, the Chicago Tribune. Well, you know how sensitive artists can be. Theatre folk are a rage because of what appears to be a breach of a longstanding gentleman's agreement that New York newspapers will refrain from reviewing shows that open out of town until they come to New York. Moving Out is Broadway-bound. It's presumably being tweaked in Chicago in according with a longstanding theatre tradition. Joining me now is Frank Rich, op-ed columnist for the New York Times and New York Times drama critic for over a decade. Frank, welcome back to On the Media.
FRANK RICH: Nice to be here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So there is an agreement of sorts, isn't there?
FRANK RICH:There is. The system grew up when every Broadway show tried out out of town, and it was understood that Broadway critics would wait for these Broadway shows to come into New York and have their official openings and review them then, but there's so few shows that, Broadway shows, that try out out of town now that there's tremendous focus on each of them. So what's happened is that theatre columnists in New York now routinely re--refer at least to what the out of town critics are saying about these shows when they open in a place like Chicago.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:The Times has a roundup column that does that during the year, but they don't print an entire review the way that Newsday did of the Chicago Tribune.
FRANK RICH:What Newsday did was [LAUGHS] an interesting wrinkle. Newsday did not send its New York critic to review it. So in essence, they weren't breaking this agreement. Part of the gentleman's agreement has always been about the fact that the New York critics would not pre-judge a show based on its unfinished version, and so the Newsday's actual critic remains a virgin to this show because she can say I didn't see that previous version, and what's the difference between running the full Chicago Tribune review which we happen to own because we're part of the same company as opposed to having a paragraph summary of it in the Times or the Post or somewhere else?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Because you haven't prejudiced New York audiences against a production that may still be in progress!
FRANK RICH:There's, there are two other factors I would add into the mix to, to make a case for, for what Newsday did. One is, in the days of the internet, every theatre person who really cares can find these reviews in full in an instant anyway, which was not true for most of the history of the theatre. You c-- had to go to an out of town newsstand and maybe find the Chicago Tribune on the right day. Now anyone can get it with a click. And also, ticket prices are so high that you can't really blame consumers for wanting to do all the research before they spend a hundred bucks a ticket.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay, so do those two things render the gentleman's agreement now obsolete?
FRANK RICH:They don't render it obsolete. I think it's--speaking as a former critic, I think that it's the proper role of a, of a-- New York theatre critic to review the play that opens in New York.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:You were a drama critic; now you're an op-ed columnist. You must have in mind the news imperative. I mean a Billy Joel story. Billy Joel is a New York native son. That's news! Isn't there a sort of journalistic imperative to report on news?
FRANK RICH:Absolutely. And that's why by the way in the 1940s the New York Times ran summaries of--the out of town reviews of A Streetcar Named Desire or of South Pacific before they came to New York. Because it was news! So the Billy Joel in Chicago situation is exactly analogous to that, and the only difference is that, is that Newsday ran a whole Chicago review whereas the Times in 1949 in South Pacific would have written a summary of such a Chicago review.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you think the producers who have protested against what Newsday did last month are just a bunch of crybabies?
FRANK RICH:Yes. [LAUGHS] Quite frankly, [LAUGHS] [LAUGHTER] everyone's going to find out anyway that Moving Out did not get great reviews in Chicago, but if the show is fixed, assuming it's broken, and turns out to be great, no one will remember; no one will care; and that's also part of the history of the theatre. No one remembers that Fiddler on the Roof and Hello Dolly got terrible reviews during their Detroit tryouts even though those bad reviews were publicized in the New York papers at the time, but once the shows opened and became hits, it was all past history.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well Frank Rich, it was a pleasure. Thank you.
FRANK RICH: Great talking to with you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Frank Rich is an op-ed columnist for the New York Times and a longtime past drama critic for that paper. [MUSIC]
RAYMOND CROMLEY:My name is Raymond Cromley. My job is, is newspaperman. I am at the Pentagon, right across from where they hand out news when they're permitted to.
"Allegro molto from Beethoven Sonata 13 in E flat"
by Glenn Gould