Who’s afraid of the New York Times?
Not Rocco Landesman.
The Jujamcyn Theaters prexy began his week by firing off a complaint to the newspaper regarding its Monday coverage of “Caroline, or Change,” which opened Sunday on Broadway. Jujamcyn produced the tuner with about 20 legit orgs and individuals, including HBO and Clear Channel.
The Times traditionally places Broadway reviews on page one of its arts section. Not “Caroline.” The new musical by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori was relegated to page five, with a short notice by the usually prolix Ben Brantley.
A spokesman for “Caroline” confirmed Landesman wrote the letter of “concern” about the show’s coverage in the Times.
Why the page-five snub? The Times could hardly argue it was a red-letter day for cultural news in Gotham: Page one of the Monday arts section included a review of a New York City Ballet gala; a profile of Colombian painter Fernando Botero, filed from Bogota; a review of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival from Indio, Calif., plus a rehash of a Sunday Times story on James Levine’s arm spasms.
Monday’s review of “Caroline” is actually Brantley’s second go at the show. He wrote a mixed notice of the tuner’s original production at the Public Theater last fall. On rare occasions, the Times simply reprints reviews when shows transfer, which is what happened to Charles Busch’s “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” when it transferred from MTC to Broadway in November 2000. The notice ran in the arts section’s inside pages, and the show went on to run more than 700 perfs.
The Times, in a statement, said the page-five item “reflected the best news judgment of our editors and critics” given that Brantley’s re-review characterized the production as being largely the same as its initial incarnation.
Regarding the Broadway incarnation of “Caroline,” Brantley told Daily Variety he chose to re-review because there had been changes in the text as well as the cast. And, after all, Kushner is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Angels in America.”
In truth, there has been a lot of give-and-take at the Times regarding “Caroline.”
After Brantley’s original mixed review last fall, Frank Rich wrote a Sunday Times essay that treated “Caroline” as a landmark musical. Then the paper’s second-string theater critic, Margo Jefferson, got in on the action and trashed the show in a Critic’s Notebook column. Last Sunday’s paper gave “Caroline” headliner Tonya Pinkins a huge profile, which was followed by Monday’s perceived snub.
Some insiders think “Caroline” got off lucky: “Better to bury a lukewarm review than put it on page one,” said one producer.
There is another factor to consider. Tony noms are announced Monday and, as one Shubert Alley wag predicted, “The Times has given ‘Caroline’ the sympathy vote.”