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An Interview with the Infamous Michael Riedel

"I'd like to see the theater become part of contemporary culture again. I think that it's a real problem for the theater, and these shows. You see that they are not tapping into anything that's going on in the world today."

I recently sat down at Angus McIndoe for lunch with the New York Post's always controversial columnist - Michael Riedel. It was an interview interrupted many times by theater notables stopping by to see him, then returning to their tables to send him drinks. Michael's in a unique position in the theater world, leading him to wonder aloud – were the drinks laced with poison?

Let's start at the beginning – when did your interest in theater begin?

I did some plays in high school which I had a good time doing. I remember doing the all-Christian version of The Diary of Anne Frank. I went to a small Catholic school in upstate New York with no Jewish people in the town, so it was all Catholics and Presbyterians playing Otto Frank, Mr. Dussel, everyone, but I remember enjoying doing that play very much and enjoyed my first time up on stage.

It must have been 7th grade and I played Dussel the dentist. Of course if you've read the later writings about Anne Frank it turns out that he was also a pedophile and molesting them but we were doing the nice cleaned up Broadway Frances Goodrich, and Albert Hackett version of the show.

Growing up, I saw a few of the shows that would come through Rochester, New York where I'm from; so it was some of the traveling shows that I saw like Barnum, and I think that I saw Hello Dolly! with Carol Channing.

I can't say though that they made any tremendous impression on me, or that I was wildly interested in the theater or that I wanted to be in the theater myself. I was interested in politics very much when I was growing up and that's what I think I really wanted to be – either a senator, or a Supreme Court Justice, and I always wanted to be a lawyer. I think that I began to get interested in the theater when I came to New York on a trip with my mother when I was in high school and I saw

42nd Street
, which I thought was your typical kind of old-fashioned Broadway show, and the next night I saw the original cast of Nine. Nine was the first Broadway kind of show where I thought "hmmnn – now this is intriguing!" It seemed incredibly sophisticated to a kid from a small town to see this glossy, sheik Tommy Tune production with all these sexy women. I remember Anita Morris in a skin-tight dress rolling around on that spa block and a lot of my early interest in Broadway theater stemmed from that experience.

My interest in theater overall stemmed from when I went in college to live in London and I could get really cheap seats to The National Theatre and to the RSC to see the great plays. That's where I learned about and fell in love with Shakespeare, Chekov, Shaw, and then Becket. I remember seeing a terrific production of Waiting for Godot and that's where I sort of realized that theater was more than Broadway, and that there's a lot more to it than musicals. Also in school I took a class, 20th Century Dramatic Literature, that had a wonderful teacher who showed me the delights to be had in Chekov – who's now my favorite playwright, and my favorite writer.

Aside from The Diary of Anne Frank, were you ever bitten by the acting bug yourself?

I remember thinking at one point, that if I was to go into theater, that I would go in on more of the academic end. I thought that maybe I'd get a Master's Degree in comparative literature. I think that I toyed with that idea for about a week and then realized that "well no, you're a history major, and you have no prospects, so you might as well go to law school." I was friendly with a woman who was in the playwriting department at Columbia, where I went to study law and she would take me around to see plays with her. She was more interested in serious theater, so she would take me to see obscure four-hour plays in the lower east side which, when you're 22, you can do. You can't do it anymore though when you get older – because you'd slit your wrists, but when you're 22 and you're pretentious you go to see long, boring, sad Italian neo-realist films and you go to obscure plays and that's what you consider to be art.


Anyway, she had a friend who was editing Theater Week magazine (which is long since dead) and he gave me a job as managing editor of the magazine. I took it for a year and thought what the hell; I'll take a year off, kick around New York and then will go back to law school. I wound up staying for 4 years. I'm a lazy person, so once I was in it, I couldn't imagine getting myself out of it all. From there I drifted to a gig with the Daily News, and then on over to the New York Post and now to this lunch. Here I am.

So no, the upshot is that theater has always been something that I've had an interest in, but I was never a devoted fanatic theater-goer. I wasn't the kid that was lip-synching to Hello Dolly! in the rec. room while everyone else was outside playing softball. Not that I was playing softball either mind you, I was probably reading. I always read a lot as a kid and I'd spend long periods of time in my room reading... I wasn't reading anything great until I got older, but I used to read Agatha Christie mysteries and all of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels.

It's always great to meet another James Bond book fan. I've read all of those also when I was younger. So no theatrical aspirations of your own – either performing or writing?

I did a couple of plays in high school, and I did a play in college too. A funny story - I just did an interview with Edward Albee this morning for Theater Talk and he told me that he's writing a new play, which is a prequel – and that's a terrible phrase - and even he says that it's a terrible phrase - to The Zoo Story And if you don't know The Zoo Story – it's a play about Peter and his wife and it takes place before Peter leaves his apartment to go into the park to sit and read and then he meets Jerry. So, the only play that I did in college was the Zoo Story and I played Peter. It was fascinating because Edward said that he had never given Peter much thought when he was writing it but he realized, that for the last 45 years, Peter has been in his head and that his story has been trying to claw its way out and now it's going to. So I gave him some insights because my performance was briiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiliant. He'll give me the first draft, and I'll help him collaborate on it.

Acting never seemed to be anything that you did for a living, just something that you do for kicks, and thank God, because I now know what the actor's life is like and I wouldn't… I was going to say that I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, but I have many enemies and I wish that on them and worse.

But, no and on writing… I'm not really frankly a writer either. I sort of hack out these columns, but I never set out to be a writer; I never had any desire to be a writer. I don't have any novel bubbling around inside of me or a play that I want to write. I procrastinate all the time because I hate to write and I hate sitting in front of my computer having to write. I'll do anything to avoid writing. I don't think that I'm a natural writer by any stretch of the imagination.

I think that if I did want to do anything in the theater that it would have been to be a producer because I like producers; I like what they do and I'm interested in how they do what they do. I like the business aspect of the theater and my columns as you've probably noticed go off a lot about the business issues in the theater. I like the notion of the person that puts the whole package together and then has to deal with these crazy egos and these eccentric people to shape this thing and to push it along to its opening night. I think that it's an intellectually challenging thing to do and I find that many producers are indeed real artists in a way and have a great sense of artistic sensibility and taste.

When I was in college I worked with Liz McCann and her office which was lots of fun. Although, I remember that I never understood what a producer did when I was working for Liz – no clue; I just got coffee for a lot of people. If I had to do it all over again, and who knows, in the second act of my life maybe I will be a producer. Or, if it was a Chekov play, then it'd be the fifth act that would let me be a producer. I'd like to jump over to the other side and to fail miserably so everyone could laugh at me and mock me and ridicule me the way I do them.

So where would you have wound up had you not gotten the job at Theater Week?

Had I not gone off with this crazy venture in theater that I have, I think that I'd be locking up drug dealers as an Assistant DA which I think probably has its joys. I can tell you that I would not have been a defense attorney; I know myself too well. I would definitely be the prosecutor.

I don't think that bit of information will surprise anyone reading this. What have been some of your favorite productions over the years?

Dance of the Vampires, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Sweet Smell of Success, and Seussical! I like the flops, because in my perspective – they give me all of the materials to write juicy columns. I love a big flop... I love a fiasco, and I love to watch it all fall apart because I can get months of columns out of it. A flop is interesting because then it becomes a study in human nature – the way people behave. In a hit, people generally behave the same way - they love each other, they had a great time and they can't work again with each other.

A flop though, that's where their personalities come out. That's where you see what Fran and Barry Weissler are capable of in trying to fix the Seussical. That's where you see who has the guts to tough it out, who folds quickly, who's treacherous, who's loyal in spite of everything that's going wrong. That's when you really get a sense of the nature of the people that you write about and to me, the business is about personalities and egos and they're on display in the most dramatic raw terms when they're trying to salvage a ship that's sinking.

What are some shows that you've actually enjoyed?

I loved the Lion King because of what Julie Taymor did. I thought that was one of the most exciting theatrical experiences of my life; going out of town to see it in Minneapolis at an early preview and to just be knocked over by the dramatic and beautiful vision that this woman had of the world that she created. No one had ever seen anything like that before on the stage. She invented a universe outside of the realm of the musical theater even though she was working with material that arguably was second rate. Although I would say that some of the songs, particularly the La Bohemme songs are better than most people give it credit for and the story is a classic story and fairly well told. She was working with Disney and yet she was turning into a wonderfully inventive, brilliantly theatrical experience.

I saw a production of Titus Andronicus with Brian Cox when I was in college, directed by Debra Warner, who's a very good director and I remember it vividly as if I saw it yesterday because it was just ferocious, bloody and great. What Debra really hit on there was the core of that play, which sort of was just the political aspect of that play - that it's about someone who saves his society and once he's beaten back the demons at the gate then the society has no use for them anymore because they don't want to be governed by them. They want them to win the wars for them, but then they don't want to live under them. It's fascinating politically because it's just like Churchill who fights the war for them, fights Hitler for them, but when the war's over – he's out. I thought that Debra Warner captured the political point of that play very well, and also the interesting thing about Titus Andronicus is that in that play you see the seeds of all the great plays that Shakespeare wrote later on. I love Titus Andronicus, but I'd never make the case that it's a great Shakespeare play. Just that the greatness is there, embedded within the revenge tragedy aspect of the play. Titus Andronicus is essentially a "slasher movie" of the 16th century like a lot of those plays were at the time.

The Tommy Tune production of Nine was terrific and I liked this current production too. I loved Grand Hotel also, and I thought that Tommy Tune's direction of that was one of the most exciting things that I've ever seen on stage. I remember the show being one continuous swirl of motion and with Tommy at his best – the movement never stops, it just swirls around.

I loved the play Closer that was done by Patrick Marber on Broadway a few years ago. I think that's the best modern look at heterosexual relationships that I've seen. I saw in London – a terrific production of The Three Sisters directed by this young woman named Katie Mitchell who I think is going to be a very important director. I said earlier that I loved Chekov, and this was the best production of the Three Sisters that I've ever seen and I've seen about 14 productions of it. It was a deeply poignant and moving production of that great play.

I also saw, when I was younger, Shaw's (and he's another great favorite of mine) production of You Never Can Tell with a wonderful actor named Michael Holder who's now long since dead. I saw it in London and I went to that play with a friend of mine from college who's now a fairly well known actor – Dan Futterman, who plays the brother on Judging Amy. Dan was a sort of brooding, sort of Marlon Brando-ish type actor who was writing sad poetry and was never happy. He always had a little black cloud over his head. I remember that I was dazzled by the language, by the brilliance of Shaw's ideas and the upper-class characters, the witty banter…I loved it all. I remember Dan said, (because he was such a sort of American actor, and he loved the more sort of blood and guts Brando kind of stuff), that he just wanted to take a machine gun and to shoot all of these people. I realized that we were having entirely different experiences, that he found it boring and vapid and empty while I found it dynamic and lively and intellectual. Then Dan wound up doing bad TV movies, and bad TV shows, so who's the true intellect here?

The Producers was another show that you liked, how do you feel it works without the big stars?

I liked The Producers a lot, but it doesn't take a genius to spot a show like The Producers and The Lion King. It should work without the stars, because it's a good show, but it doesn't. As it turns out, Nathan and Matthew brought an awful lot to that show. I saw it with Henry Goodman, and he was terrible but I think it can work well without them – and be perfectly acceptable, but it's not great without them.

How about the LA cast of Jason Alexander and Martin Short who at least are able to match the original pair in name recognition?

I hear that they're not very good either. I think Matthew and Nathan are subtle, sophisticated actors, and as broad as the show is, and as broad as The Producers can be – what makes it really good is that the relationship at the core between Matthew and Nathan is quite sensitive and sophisticated. It's a love story between those two guys; not a gay love story, but two people who are essentially alone in the world, who were never able to trust anyone, who never cared for anyone else and they come together and they realize that they do care about each other a lot. And that requires a certain level of subtlety and sophistication that Matthew and Nathan are quite capable of, and no one I've seen since do it has really gotten it.

Over the recent past, there's been a few infamously large instances of you supposedly having it 'in' for a show…that people have accused you of having a personal vendetta towards.

Dance of the Vampires…

Well, I've read that about myself, and I didn't have a personal vendetta. A personal vendetta would mean that there's someone in the show that I'm out to get. I mean who was I out to get in the show? Michael Crawford? I've never met him. The show was lousy, and I felt that he was lousy in the show. It's not a question of it being a personal vendetta, but if I go to see a show and it's bad, I'm going to look around for why it's bad and if people are unhappy and it turned out that a lot of people were unhappy on that show. I'm a gossip columnist – that's what I do – I look for the gossip. And there's always lots of gossip surrounding the big stinker. So, of course I was looking at it, but I was never looking at it like "I'm going to help kill Dance of the Vampires."

I actually happened to like personally and I love musically - Jim Steinman. I've known Jim for a long time and actually there was a quite a bit of the score of Dance of the Vampires that I liked very much and I love his Meat Loaf albums too. I think that Jim's a great talent and that he was led astray in this instance, but I wish that Jim would write more musicals, because I think that his pop/rock sensibility is very theatrical and could work well, but I had no personal vendetta.

I had no personal vendetta or agenda against anyone in the Sweet Smell of Success or Seuissical. These shows are just bad – they're flops and I cover them. I don't set out to say "This is a Weissler show – I'm going to kill it." I like Fran and Barry Weissler very much. People only remember the shows that you're mean about. They seldom remember the shows that you champion. For example – no one ever says to me that "you hated Movin' Out in Chicago, but then you saw it in New York and you wrote that they turned it around, and you became a supporter." No one remembers that…

Human nature I guess…

They just remember the negative stuff that you print. Now granted, I give them plenty of stuff to remember on the negative stuff. I'm not going to be disingenuous here and tell you that I'm Pollyanna when it comes to the theater, and just that my natural bent in life is that I look for the more unpleasant aspects of things, because that's just where the drama is. And that's fun to write about, but I do love to celebrate shows. I love to write about The Producers, The Lion King and Movin' Out and Nine and Hairspray. It's nice to get behind something.

How about Gypsy?

That was simply just a lousy production, and I think she was miscast.

Have you run into Bernadette since those columns or?

We don't move in the same circles of fag-hags. I don't know her, though I think I was introduced to her years ago once or twice. I thought that she just wasn't very good, and there's a lot of people involved in that show who didn't think it was very good either including the writers!

I did some reporting, and my reporting reflected what was going on with the show. Now, I had a good time making fun of that show and making fun of Bernadette, but that's what I do. My job is to write a lively column. If you want sort of a "this is happening here, and this person is going there into that," read the Friday column of the New York Times. That paper does a very good job of telling you when shows are opening, who's going into what show - that's just not the kind of stuff that I write.

Do you not intend for people to take things personally… I mean if Bernadette, or another performer came up to you and said that she was personally offended by it?

Well, I can see why she would be because I was essentially saying that she wasn't up to the job and that would be personally offensive to anyone that it was said about. I hope that it comes across in my columns that I don't take any of the stuff too seriously, and I don't take myself very seriously. I often make fun of myself in the columns, and I often print letters from people who are attacking me. I don't think that I'm the final judge or arbiter of anything, or that I'm infallible, or some sort of theater God sitting there handing out pronouncements about what shows should run or should not run. I want to be playful, and cheeky, and fun and mischievous and diabolical, and I like it when people give it right back to me.

I'd love to publish a letter from David Brown, saying that I'm no Walter Winchell and that I'm a nut because I don't like Sweet Smell of Success, or when Liz McCann writes a letter or when Rosie O'Donnell's advertising executive writes a letter disputing what I say – I run the letter. I'm as open to criticism as the shows that I attack are. And I prefer – I love to spar with people, I love to fight with people. I love to have a vicious exchange with someone in the column or on TV and then to have a drink with them after. I genuinely like theater people and I like having them around. I like them – they're fun. If I didn't like them, I wouldn't hang around this business for fourteen years writing about it. I could have gone off and been a lawyer and made more money.

I think there's probably some theater people out there willing to take up a collection to fund you if you would like to go back to law school…

People have said that to me many times… They've often offered to pay my tuition if I'd go back to law school.

On the topic of how people react to your column – do you get a large amount of feedback?

Well, the feedback I see is often on the Internet, what people say about me online. I find it to be wonderfully amusing and I love to read it all, because it keeps you humble. If I make a mistake, people jump all over it and people seem to violently disagree with me, and hate me or want to not pay attention to me but obviously I'm doing something right if they're always talking about me.

Twice a week…

I think that they're playing into my hands, but I love it – I love the Internet and I love the chat sites because it's broad democracy in action, everybody has an opinion and now they can hold forth. And those web sites are important because everyone in the theater world checks them. It's instant word of mouth, and now there's word of mouth about columns. I write about word of mouth about shows, and people write word of mouth about me which is great and fun, and I'm never offended by anything that happens or that's posted about me. If you dish it out, then you've got to be able to take it too.

I like the fact that people disagree with me, and that they get mad at me and get pissed off at me and every now and then someone defends me – and it's not me under a pseudonym.

So you have never posted on the …

No, I don't, I've never posted. For the simple reason that I'm terrible with technology, I can barely open my e-mail. I have no Palm Pilot, I can't work the VCR, I don't have a DVD player, I have an old phone with a dial on it, and I wouldn't know how to get a handle on one of these web sites to post anything.

Anything I have to say on a subject, I put in the Post.

If your bosses at the Post came to you and said that Clive Barnes was leaving and would you be the critic for the Post…


That was a very fast answer.

I don't want to be a critic. I don't want to live in an ivory tower, and to have to go and to sit through everything. Right now I get paid and I can choose when I want to go and what I want to sit through. But a critic has to go and see everything and that's a big responsibility. I also like being in touch with theater people, and I don't think that as a critic you really can be. You should just look at the play for what it is, and not pay attention to the gossip behind the scenes and all that stuff, to just evaluate what you see. I would find it very boring to just go to the theater every night and to go home and have to write little term papers about the shows.

I prefer the rough and tumble of the industry. If I'm going to cover the show, I'm going to cover if it's unraveling, if it's coming together, I want to know what's going on behind the scenes – how much money it's making or losing. I want to know that the Boy From Oz is never going to make it after these reviews today, and that Hugh Jackman can not possibly carry this lousy show on his back.

I want to be able to pick up the phone and to be able to call the producers, and the agents, and the actors, and the box office treasurers, and the stage hands that I know and to find out what's going on. I'm not a critic, and I wouldn't be good as a critic. I'm not a good enough writer to be a critic either and I don't have the intellect to be a critic. I like Chekov yes, but I couldn't write incisive essays on the production of The Three Sisters that I saw at The National Theatre, the way Frank Rich could write incisive pieces on musical theater. It's just not where my strengths or my talents are. I don't have any talents or strengths of course, but if I did, they certainly wouldn't be in being a critic.

So your sources for your columns as you just mentioned consist of pretty much everybody?

Everybody, everybody's a source. I talk to everyone, as many people as I can. I like to get a whole sweep of the industry. I want to know what do the theater owners think, and what do the producers think, and what does the star think and what do the chorus members think, and the box office, and the head of the union and everyone. The whole panorama of the theater industry is what I try to capture.

Then you must have a huge rolodex?

I keep all the numbers in my head. I don't have a rolodex. I have some strange ability to remember phone numbers so they are either all up in my head or on scraps of paper floating around my apartment.

Do you write out of your apartment or from an office at the Post?

I usually write at the Post. I go in Tuesdays and Thursday and I write from there, but I do most of the work out of the apartment because most of the work is gathering the information, and I'm out a lot – at restaurants with friends after a show – out a lot talking to people finding out what's going on.

What sort of things do you for fun do when not doing all of that?

I read a lot… I'm working my way through the great French novels and I love music, I love listening to music. I love Opera and classical music and I often spend time when I'm not at the theater just listening to the symphony, or to an opera. I also then read biographies on the composers, and essays on the piece itself so I try to delve into everything. I would say music and reading novels is how I spend most of my free time.

I swim a mile almost every morning, and if I'm not swimming then I run in the mornings. I used to run a lot more but my knees started to go, so I took up swimming. I swim 3-4 times a week, and I run once or twice a week. Other than that my life is pretty much just about the work – going to the theater and meeting theater people and going to hang out with people and talking to people at all hours of the night. Some of your best stories come through at four in the morning because someone's upset about something going on and you just have a long conversation with them in the middle of the night.

There's also a wonderful video store in my neighborhood and my knowledge of movies is terrible so this past year I've set out to familiarize myself with movies. I've been learning about and watching the great classic Hollywood films that escaped me along with all the French and Italian pretentious films that I used to make fun of. I go through phases of different directors, and I guess this is all my way of saying that I'm sort of a nerd. If I had a wife and kids I'd be a happier man.

Are you looking for that wife and kids?

I don't like children very much – and they don't like me either. The wife – maybe someday. I'm trying to get a date first, and then maybe I'll see if I can get a wife.

Would you want to date someone that's in the theater community or?

I have and it's a big mistake.

Taking that as an indication to move on, what are your thoughts on Taboo, another show you've been writing about a lot lately?

It's never a good sign when you bring in a show doctor, and never a good sign when you bring in Jeff Calhoun. I didn't see Big River though… I don't think Taboo's going to be a hit. Boy From Oz is not going to be a hit after those reviews. Wicked, I don't know. I saw it in San Francisco, and I kind of wrote it off, but I hear that it's getting better. I haven't seen it yet, so we'll see.

I don't think this is going to be the best of seasons either, there's nothing that I see as going to be terribly exciting. It's not going to be Bounce!

What would you like to see more of on Broadway?

I'd like to see more inventiveness… and it doesn't matter to me if that's in a play or in a musical. I'd like to see more craftsmanship, and more people that know what they are doing, who know how to structure a musical, or to turn out a well-made play. You get a grab bag of things now.

Hugh Jackman gives a good performance in a crappy show. Why can't you have Hugh Jackman giving a great performance in a great show? I'd like to see more of that. I'd like to see more of

Nathan Lane
as Max Bialystock type performances. I just saw Eileen Atkins in The Retreat From Moscow. Great performance - mediocre play.

I'd like to see people get away from the insanity of these catalogue shows – buy the Peter Allen catalogue, buy the Abba catalogue, buy the John Lennon catalogue. Although, I like Mamma Mia, I feel like this is just sort of a cheap and tacky way of trying to put a musical together.

I'd like to see the theater become part of contemporary culture again. I think that it's a real problem for the theater, and these shows. You see that they are not tapping into anything that's going on in the world today. A musical about Peter Allen? If that would ever be relevant and I don't think that it ever would be, it'd be relevant in 1976, not now. What does that have to do with the way that people live their lives today? Who cares about Peter Allen? Why would you do a show about Peter Allen? Taboo is about the night club scene in the early 80s and about Boy George. That's the world of VH-1's Behind the Music. What does that have to say about anything?

The problem is that the theater is put together by people who are not young They are middle aged to old, and their sensibility is not to tap into what's going on today, and it would be great to see some young composers and writers talking about what's going on in our world today.

That's why Rent is popular with young people today because it has currency, although even Rent is now a little dated in some ways. But, at least it's about something that's happening now. It's not about Peter Allen in 1972 or New York in 1935 in the case of Wonderful Town. But this is what happens when you have an industry that's been deserted by young people because it's an industry that's inhospitable to young people. They can't make a living at it, and they can't get anywhere in it. They spend 15 years slaving away at things that never go anywhere and they can't pay their rent. So they go off to movies and television and who can blame them? The result is that you have a lot of old producers, with an older sensibility who will do revivals and will do shows about Peter Allen because when they were young doing lots of drugs, Peter Allen was hot. In their crazy minds, they still think that he is.

I wish that that there were more political plays. David Hare in London is always taking on some political subject, whether it's the media or the church or politicians and you may disagree with his point of view, but the play's still got currency and relevance. I like Richard Greenberg very much, but his new play the Violet Hour is set in the 1920s. True, his play Take Me Out is a contemporary play and that's a good play, but for the most part our playwrights are not really dealing with the issues that are surrounding us. I'm a conservative republican, so I don't really argue that I want to see lots of plays denouncing George Bush because that's boring, and you're preaching to the converted. I want to see sort of the one man Jesse Helms play that's a celebration of his life. That would really turn the town on its head!

I wish our playwrights, and our composers and our producers were tapping into a more current sensibility. On the Town which I think is a wonderful musical, and certainly better than Wonderful Town was written by young people. Comden, Green and Bernstein wrote it and it was about life during wartime and the poignancy of that aspect of those characters who are in one day, putting in one day everything that they can possibly get in, because tomorrow they may be killed – that's the young sensibility of that era. They captured what the people were feeling then.

None of the shows that I see on Broadway right now are capturing the feelings of what's going on today. I'd like to see better plays too. You do have plays that are trying to get at a sensibility of today, that are reflecting a sense maybe of like a person in the 30s as I am, a disorientation – of why are there a lot of people my age who don't have families, and who are still single. They are trying to get at that stuff which is great territory to explore, but they can't craft the play that well so they are plays of ideas, but not plays with craftsmanship that have the basic dramatic structure that makes it interesting and compelling. You have plays saying yes, and those characters are expressing things that I feel, but they're not believable characters, they're just out there as ideas.

Anytime that you're bringing in young directors, and new playwrights, and there's energy, and vitality and excitement that's a good thing. Our Public Theaters like LincolnCenter are doing Dinner at Eight, and Mornings at Seven – why? Second rate plays with very pretty John Lee Beatty sets. Big Deal! I haven't seen them do anything interesting…

In public theater – George Wolf has a political sensibility – a different sensibility from mine. He likes the minority writers but I think he likes them too much, at the expense of whether the plays are good enough. He likes them too much because the writer is a one-eyed green lesbian, so he wants to do the play because there aren't enough plays by one-eyed green lesbians.

The problem is that these theaters have been run by the same people for too long. So they still think that a new Wendy Wasserstein play is interesting, but I have news for you – a new Wendy Wasserstein play was interesting in 1978. It's not interesting in 2003. I think that artistic directors in these theaters should be 37 years old, not 70, not even 50. These theaters when they had their real success like Playwright's Manhattan Theater Club were when Andre Bishop was 26 years old and just starting out, when Lin Meadow was just starting out in the theater.

When you're young, you have a sensibility of the writers that you like, and the directors you like and you all come up in the ranks together. Now there's no turnover, with the people that run these non-profit theaters – ever. They're mummified theaters for the most part. If you look at the National Theater in London, all of the great directors have had a shot at running the National Theater and one day Jonathan Kent and Sam Mendes will run the National Theater. It's not that kind of thing here at all; everyone's been in the game a long, long time and you just can't expect them to tap into the sensibility of a 33 year old person. So they wind up doing their friends' plays and you wind up with these Wendy Wasserstein plays.

It's also more economically daunting these days…

Yeah, but a good artistic director of a theater needs to raise money, but I dare you to name me a young, vibrant aristic theater director. You can't because he's not around! They were never given a chance because people got these jobs and then stayed in them for life. There's no turnover, no movement, no energy. I think that's a big problem for the serious playwrights.

Any shows on the horizon that excite you?

I loved Michael Frayn's Democracy in London. I thought that was perfectly done; a great writer, great director, and again that's something that you're just not seeing here. Political writing you just don't get here. Here we'll have dysfunctional family plays over and over again that our writers are thinking about.

I'm always surprised though, there's always something that comes along that you don't think will be interesting. The way things are shaping up this season, I don't think you'll find anything really great. I think this is the kind of season where you had Thoroughly Modern Millie winning the Tony Award because there's nothing else out there. So maybe Wicked will win the Tony award, it's not going to be Boy From Oz. I'm not so sure that Hugh Jackman is going to win either. It's inexcusable that they've put this garbage on. That's what they do. You get what you think is a big star, and then you put him in crap. They deserve to lose all the money the Boy From Oz will.

I wish there were fewer revivals because I'm bored to death with revivals. Mainly because they've gone through the A-list shows, and now they're onto the B-list shows. So you get Wonderful Town, you're going to get The Wiz. There was Nine, which I happen to like, but as much as I like it I don't think that anyone would consider it to be an A-list show so pretty soon we'll be moving down to the C-list and I expect them to revive Bajour with Heather Graham.

It's kind of sad that there's no attempt to write contemporary plays. The September 11th plays have all been lousy, but I don't know what the answer is – maybe it's to go back to law school.

On the subject of Heather Graham, Hugh Jackman, and other Hollywood celebrities, what's your opinion on that sort of casting versus the chorus girl working her way up to stardom?

I'm fine with it as long as they're good. It doesn't matter to me if the actor's starving or rich as long as they are good. It was thrilling to see Antonio Banderas in Nine, because he was terrific, and it was great to see Marissa Jaret Winokur, a nobody breakthrough in Hairspray. (and to beat Bernadette Peters). I thought Nicole Kidman was great in The Blue Room, and I thought it was great to see her on Broadway. The play wasn't that great, but I have nothing against Hollywood stars. She was good. At the end of the day, I just want the whole thing to be acceptable.

Boy from Oz is second rate stuff, third rate stuff, and Hugh Jackman's charms are lost on me. Broadway's gaga for him, because Broadway sees it as this huge movie star giving Broadway a whole year, and they're just thrilled that he's paying attention to them. So they've all convinced themselves that he's just the greatest thing since Richard Kiley and he's not.

I recognize the financial realities of the business though and you can't raise that much money without a star, and you can't sell that many tickets without a star. However, anyone that doesn't think the play's the thing will still get it wrong. It's a bad decision to put Hugh Jackman in a lousy show. A good producer would put Hugh Jackman into a great show and if I had Hugh Jackman, I'd make the show really good – but they didn't, and they'll get what's coming to them, what they deserve --- which is constant attacks from me in the NY Post.

Speaking about the Internet a bit more, and how it's changed how shows go through the preview process with the intense scrutiny and people running back to post reviews, etc?

Being realistic, the only people that are reading all of the chat sites are show fans. It's not getting beyond you, me and Stephen Sondheim. It's not affecting how the general public goes out and buys their tickets. They're not going online to see what this poster says here or that poster says there about a show.

This is an insular industry and there's a lot at stake when you produce these big shows, so every producer is going to check these web sites and if they see a negative comment about a first preview they're going to go nuts, and they all do. It has no effect whatsoever on the general ticket buyer… It's instant word of mouth, but if a lot of people are saying the same thing, then that's a problem and producers can be using it to correct the problem. If people say I like it, but in the second act it sags here and there and you see a lot of postings along those lines, then obviously there's something's wrong that needs fixing. Use it that way.

I think that people make more of it in their minds, and get caught up in it and make more of it than it is. I'm guilty of the same thing – I'll go online and I'll read what they are saying about my column and I'll think oh my God, everyone's reading it but it's just two people that are reading you – that's it. I'm realistic, no one's picking up the New York Post to read me; they pick up the Post to see how the Yankees did last night. That's the reality of it – that we live in a very small world that very few people care about.

I'm happy to report that Michael survived the interview, so he hasn't been poisoned...yet.

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