Theatre Matters

Contemplations on the dramatic arts from a national perspective

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Steven Oxman has contributed to such publications as the Los Angeles Times, American Theatre, Stagebill, and, most frequently, Variety, for which he has written over 300 television and theatre reviews.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Something to Say

I was struck by Mark Swed's opening paragraphs in his LA Times review of "Caroline, or Change," the Tony Kushner-Jeanine Tesori musical that has managed to travel, at least to the west coast, despite an unsuccessful Broadway run. The show has garnered very mixed reviews, with a general sense that it's lacking in entertainment value, but has something profound to say. Swed hits that latter point hard:

"At last, a musical, a big ticket musical, a big ticket Broadway musical not by Sondheim, a big ticket Broadway musical not by Sondheim at the Ahmanson Theatre that means something, that's important, that demands attention, that says, yes, the musical is not dead, has not been entirely consumed by a bloated, creativity-smothering, Disney-occupied, tourist-coddling culture of a no-longer-great Great White Way.

'Caroline, or Change' is that important, big, meaningful musical not by Sondheim that demands your attention.

And it isn't even based upon a trite movie."

Swed is the classical music and opera critic at the LA Times. The paper hasn't had a lead theatre critic since Michael Phillips left for the Chicago Tribune 3 years ago. (Full disclosure: I was a "finalist" for the job before I moved to Philadelphia -- I'm not sure what it means when you're a finalist for about 6 months for a job that never gets filled.) The overwhelming majority of the Times' theatre reviews, written by a group of staffers and freelancers, are utter milquetoast. They should give Swed the job for good. He might be a little over-the-top (what about The Lion King, which certainly wasn't 'creativity-smothering'?), but the biggest paper in the second biggest city needs to have a real voice on theatre -- and not a bland committee.