Monday, January 15, 2018

Softie Simon

I've been reading a collection of John Simon's theatre criticism from 1974 to 2003.  Simon is known for being hard to please, and not holding back.  For instance, this book contains the review where he notes how Liza Minnelli looks like a beagle.

But I notice a bit of softening.  He seems to find more he likes--compared to his film criticism, and earlier theatre criticism, anyway--and at times takes an almost jovial tone.  Occasionally, he even gets hyperbolic in his praise (I'm guessing--I didn't see most of these productions).

More surprising, he admits he made mistakes.  I'm not saying he shouldn't--we all change our minds over time on some things.  It's just that most critics, especially ones as harsh as Simon, don't like to take things back.

Yet a few reviews--particular for Sondheim shows--now have footnotes written in 2005 when the book was published.  For instance, regarding Merrily We Roll Along, we get "Sorry.  This is a much better show than I realized at the time.  Some of it was the production's fault, much of it mine."  And for Sunday In The Park With George: "In this and other reviews of Sondheim's music, the passage of time, repeated exposure, and my own maturing have proved me wrong." Good to see he was still maturing, even though he was almost 60 when George opened.

After reading his harsh, unyielding criticism for years, I'm not sure how to take this.  It shows a graciousness, I suppose, but mostly it's unsettling.


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