Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Abominable Showman, February 26, 2012

Rex Reed (from Facebook)

On the Town with Bugs
Why people love nasty reviews, and a sampling of the nastiest reviews in showbiz history
By Richard Burnett
There are reviews and then there are nasty reviews. 
The curmudgeonly film critic Rex Reed – who currently writes the column “On the Town with Rex Reed” for The New York Observer – has famously dropped a few doozies over the course of his long career, such as this classic one-liner about the 2009 movie Shrink: “The director of this fiasco, somebody called Jonas Pate, couldn’t direct a dune buggy across the surface of the moon.”
Watching Dogville, Reed wrote, “is like climbing the Matterhorn with a cement block tied to your back.”
He is no fan of Barbra Streisand either. “To know her is not necessarily to love her,” Reed once noted.

Of his experience co-starring in that 1970 camp-classic train wreck of a movie, Myra Breckinridge, based on Gore Vidal’s novel, Reed says, “Mae West spoke to no one but God, Raquel [Welch] spoke only to the head of the studio, the head of the studio spoke only to God, who then related the message back to Mae West.”
But people love nasty reviews. They inevitably are the ones people remember most. 
For instance, when Dame Diana Rigg, best-known for her portrayals of Emma Peel in The Avengers and Countess Teresa di Vicenzo in my all-time favourite James Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, appeared naked in a play on Broadway in 1971, New York critic John Simon wrote that Rigg was “built like a brick basilica with insufficient flying buttresses.”

So a decade later Rigg asked her many friends and colleagues in the theatre and film worlds to share their worst-ever reviews. She collected them in No Turn Unstoned, a hugely entertaining collection of “the worst theatrical reviews in history” that was published by Elm Tree Books in 1982. 

The book initially bombed but by the time the first paperback edition was released in 1991, Rigg began touring university campuses, reading excerpts from her book, with all proceeds from the speaking tour donated to theatrical charities.
Some scathing reviews I personally remember over the years include Linda Howe-Beck of The Montreal Gazette writing about drag-troop The House of Pride’s musical at the Saidye Bronfman Centre (now the Segal theatre) in the mid 1990s.
House of Pride had just come off acclaimed wins at Divers/Cite’s World Ball for Unity. Beck memorably wrote that House of Pride “had no business being in a reputable theatre” and should stick to performing in nightclubs. 
I even remember that show’s publicist Elana Wright telling me afterwards that she would not allow the cast to read the review until after the run.
Wainwright (courtesy Universal Records)
Another Montrealer – Rufus Wainwright – has also seen his fair share of nasty reviews. When his opera Prima Donna – which just wound up its U.S. premiere with the New York City Opera on February 25 – debuted at the Manchester International Festival in July 2009, the reviews were mixed at best. Warwick Thompson of Bloomberg wrote, “There were tears of joy in Rufus Wainwright’s eyes when he took his bow after the world premiere of his opera… There were some in mine too, though the joy sprang more from relief that it was over.”
Feldman (via Facebook)
Yet another Montrealer, Adam Feldman, is the theatre and cabaret critic for Time Out New York magazine. In his Best and Worst of 2011 round-up, he wrote about On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, “No amount of therapy, hypnotism or telepathy can answer the central question raised by this psychomusical revival: What were they thinking?”
Over at The London Telegraph, Charles Spencer absolutely loathed 2008’s Peter Pan - El Musical. “Spanish version of Peter Pan with songs that made the Eurovision Song Contest sound like a recital of Schubert lieder,” Spencer wrote. “It was so bad the entire circle at the Garrick Theatre declined to clap when Peter begged us to save Tink’s life.”
(courtesy London Telegraph)
Back in Montreal, one of that city’s most infamous theatre reviews actually happened in the theatre itself, back in 1997 when Charlebois Post publisher Gaëtan Charlebois – who was then the theatre critic for Montreal’s much-lamented alt-weekly HOUR magazine – called out, “C’est d’la merde!” (or “What bullshit!”) following the premiere performance of Koltès’ Quai Ouest at Espace Go.
Then in 1998 Charlebois was denied ticket privileges by the Centaur Theatre when he panned then-artistic director Gordon McCall‘s Gone With the Wind Twelfth Night
What a turbulent era that was.
I’m happy to say the Centaur hasn’t denied me my ticket privileges after I panned their current production of In Absentia.
“Hopes were high for Centaur Theatre’s world premiere of In Absentia by Calgary-born Morris Panych, the celebrated playwright and director who has won two Canadian Governor General’s Literary Awards for Drama,” I wrote in The Charlebois Post. “But rest assured, Panych will not win a third for In Absentia.”
But, hey, at least the set looked gorgeous.
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