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‘Lestat’ bites back

Producers pull press tix for John tuner

Tensions between the old rules of print journalism and the new rules of the Internet have provoked another theater-world skirmish.

At the Jan. 8 San Francisco opening of the Broadway-bound vampire tuner “Lestat,” the producers of the new Elton John musical had yanked press tickets for Karen d’Souza, the critic for the San Jose Mercury News, because the journo had posted a blog entry on the paper’s Web site Dec. 21 asking for opinions of the show. (“Lestat” had been in previews since Dec. 17.)

“It’s not ethical for any critic, who’s supposed to be objective, to solicit opinions publicly before they’ve seen the show and posted their review,” says Gregg Maday, exec VP of Warner Bros. Theater Ventures, which is producing “Lestat.” “It’s going to influence your opinion.”

The “Lestat” camp asked the paper to send another critic, and when the editors refused, d’Souza was disinvited.

She nonetheless bought her own ticket to the opening and wrote her review on schedule, joining most other San Fran critics in panning the show.

The incident sparked renewed worry in Gotham — at least among press agents — that the divide between old-fashioned criticism and instantaneous chatroom sniping is further dissolving.

“It’s opening the door for the lines to be blurred permanently,” said one press agent not associated with “Lestat.” “That’s dangerous. And it diminishes the value of the critic.”

Linda Winer, the critic at Newsday, disagrees. “We can go on any chatroom and read about what people are saying anyway,” she says.

Tony Lioce, arts and entertainment editor at the Mercury News, says the paper saw no ethical issues in d’Souza’s post, which drew predominantly unfavorable reviews of the show from posting theatergoers.

Lioce equates the opinions submitted electronically to more traditional letters to the editor. “I bet you that if she had done this and people had loved it, the ‘Lestat’ people wouldn’t have said a word,” he says.

“It’s not a matter of good reviews and bad reviews,” Maday counters. “As we move into a new age, we have new technology we have to deal with.”

Either way, some legiters believe that producers pulling review tickets isn’t likely to stop the hard-and-fast traditions of theater journalism from getting bent by the Internet.

“I think they were pissing on a wildfire there,” Winer says.

Cuckoo for “Cuckoo”

There’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” the novel, “Cuckoo’s Nest” the play and “Cuckoo’s Nest” the Oscar-winning movie. Now how about “Cuckoo’s Nest” the ballet?

Not one but two dance companies — one in Sweden and one in Turkey — have separately applied for the rights to adapt Dale Wasserman‘s 1963 play (based on Ken Kesey’s novel) into a dance.

Swedish producer Peter Strom wants to create a dialogue-free piece for 12 dancers, drawing on the story and its characters. Details about the Turkish version are still forthcoming, and no timeline has yet been set for either, but both are in negotiations with Wasserman’s foreign-rights agent.

The scribe held on to the stage and miscellaneous rights to “Cuckoo” even as the movie rights went to Kirk Douglas for the 1975 film. That decision has proved a moneymaker: Wasserman estimates that the show has been produced an average of 140 times per year in the U.S. for the last 40 years.

Can “Cuckoo’s Nest” the tuner be far behind? Wasserman, after all, also wrote the book for “Man of La Mancha.”

“I love musicals and I write them,” Wasserman says over email. “But I do not wish to make a musical of ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ and have turned down the requests by others to do so.”

Instead, the playwright, now in his 80s and living what he calls a “reclusive” existence in Arizona, chooses to focus on his newer works.

Two one-acts, the mystery “Boy on Blacktop Road” and the comedy “Stallion Howl,” will premiere in the spring at the Rubicon Theater in Ventura, Calif. And his play about Haiti, “An Enchanted Land,” is being considered by Off Broadway’s Classical Theater of Harlem for a production during the 2006-07 season.

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