Day 7 Wandering up Broadway I am bedazzled by the neon marquis’ that cluster, brashly proffering the stupendous wares inside the auditoria. The press quotes are probably filtered, the longer running shows benefiting from reviews from forgotten newspaper critics marvelling at the original cast, long since moved on to another spectacle. Reading the hype I smile and wonder how much of the breathless prose is a real representation of the original review?
When in London I wander daily past an “A” board for Blood Brothers outside the Phoenix Theatre on Charing Cross Road which still has an enlarged Jack Tinker review. The astonishing, infectious, impish and witty Tinker was one of the true characters of theatre journalism, who sadly passed away in 1997. The management still maintains Jack’s memory by keeping up his glowing review of the original production circa 1984, for all the foot traffic to enjoy. A review that is a real museum piece, how magnanimous!
The old theatre publicists’ tricks have a breathtaking audacity that I would love to document. The skill to fillet a set of positive adjectives from a beastly review is a time honoured dexterity that was evident in all its perverted beauty back in the early days of press agency for Broadway shows. One of the first spectacular failures that the poor press agent Zach Leib had to use all his juvenile guile on was The Follies Bergere. It opened at the 46th Street Theatre later to be known as the Fulton. Variety slated it and described it as “a burly show of the highest type.” It was groundbreaking to offer a cabaret, revue, food and drink; the quality of which was also questioned. Leib got into hot water by changing many of the press reviews, turning positive into negatives. The best was the cryptic line taken totally out of context. “Good isn’t the word!” My research leads me to the original review in the New York City Library but it would be such a shame to reveal the true vitriol. Despite all Leib’s efforts, the show closed in the same year that it opened. Lasky, later to become a movie behemoth, and Harry B Harris burnt a cool $ 100,000. Happily Leib got paid; it’s always wise to settle up with the person closet to the media first!