Nickname given to Frank Rich
, New York Times theater critic
from 1980 to 1993, because his negative reviews were scathing and merciless -- to the point that some claim he single-handedly killed some Broadway
To be fair, Rich loved many plays that he saw and wrote some absolutely glowing reviews. But he’s best remembered for slashing musicals like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express: "A confusing jamboree of piercing noise, routine roller-skating, misogyny and Orwellian special effects.”
It’s claimed that Rich destroyed the spirit, if not the livelihoods, of many an actor or director. But I’m not convinced he was being unfair.
In a 60 Minutes profile, Rich came across as someone who truly loves musical theater but just wishes Broadway would move on, move beyond saccharine music, cloying lyrics and childish plot lines. He held up Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera as an example, saying its music was deplorable bubble gum and that its acting two-dimensional, sucking the horror out of a classic horror story. And I know millions of people love the play, but IMHO, there’s more than a little bit of truth in Rich’s words. You can’t blame the critic for the sorry state of the art.
Nor is Rich alone in criticizing modern musicals. Note this commentary from the musicals101.com Web site:
"The Lion King [the stage version] boasts magnificent Disney marketing and $12,000,000 worth of puppetry, but the Elton John-Tim Rice score has all the melody and wit of a State Department press release. Luckily for Disney, contemporary audiences have been trained to prefer style over substance, and Lion King has style by the truckload."
Rich will forever be known as the Butcher of Broadway, but for my money, that’s like criticizing the scoreboard operator when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays lose.