Critics are always sniping at something, but the real fun begins when they start sniping at one another.
The members of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle got into a heated exchange last week over “Hadestown,” the Anaïs Mitchell musical that’s doing a brisk business at the Walter Kerr.
The debate was over the show’s eligibility for best musical. The rules state that a musical is eligible for an award the first time it opens in New York, and that’s it. “Hadestown” premiered at the New York Theatre Workshop three years ago, and it lost out to “The Band’s Visit.”
But “Hadestown” underwent an overhaul, thanks to director Rachel Chavkin, and after productions in England and Canada, opened to mostly rave reviews.
Critic Jeremy Gerard thought the show had improved so much that it should be reconsidered as best musical. He had a lot of support. As another critic said, “It was either that or ‘The Prom,’ which I can’t stand, or ‘Tootsie,’ which is fine, but it’s another movie onstage.”
E-mails flew back and forth, pitting champions of “Hadestown” against sticklers for the rules. The scuffling over bylaws got so heated that critic David Cote tweeted, “those bitches be taking off earrings” — a phrase that upset some of the “bitches.”
The critics put the issue to a vote, and it was a tie: 9 to 9. Circle president Adam Feldman ruled that a tie wasn’t enough. “Hadestown” was out of consideration.
Some “Hadestown” fans were furious. “We’ve made all kinds of stretches and knots out of our bylaws over the years,” one Circle member says. “If we didn’t, nobody would care about us. We’re a little organization.”
When the critics met on Monday to decide the awards, the “Hadestown” champions, still scrappy, lobbied for a special award for one of the show’s stars, André De Shields.
If anyone deserves a special award from critics, it’s De Shields. Nobody moves with such elegance, silkiness and charisma. The 73-year-old lifting one finger on a note in a dance number is more powerful than a hundred chorus girls tapping their brains out in “42nd Street.”
The three-time Tony nominee won raves in “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” in 1978, was brilliant in “The Full Monty” and is sensational in “Hadestown.” He has also, and very quietly, kept the Classical Theatre of Harlem going despite financial setbacks.
And yet the younger members of the Drama Critics’ Circle, probably ignorant of his history, refused to give him an award.
“My head almost exploded,” an older critic says.
President Feldman says: “People propose many things, and we don’t discuss possible citations. Everybody in the room loves André De Shields. It’s not a question of slapping down anybody.”
To which I add: You missed the boat. De Shields deserves your award.
And if I have anything to say about it, he’s going to get a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award one day as well. Let the De Shields campaign begin!
You can hear Michael Riedel weekdays on “Len Berman and Michael Riedel in the Morning” on WOR radio 710.
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