John Simon On Theatre, Criticism, 1974-2003

JUNE 1, 2004-MAY 31, 2005

Book Reviews by Willard Manus

Two very big, very different theatre books have been published recently. One is JOHN SIMON ON THEATRE--CRITICISM, 1974-2003. Simon, long considered one of the most controversial and provocative critics in New York, thanks to his caustic wit, cranky, uncompromising opinions and love of a good fight. Many an actor, writer and director has suffered at his hands, but at the same time few could fault him for his knowledge of theatre and the high standards he set for himself.

Now Applause Books has collected thirty years' worth of his Broadway and Off-Broadway reviews and published them in their entirety. Thus one can once again read Simon's vitriolic attack on Murray Schisgal's All Over Town--"it is, in one word, repellant...a painful display...written by someone who has taken one night-school course in playwriting." Simon is not always negative, though. His praise for certain productions of Long Day's Journey Into Night and

Waiting for Godot helped attract (and educate) large audiences. But no matter whether you agree or disagree with him, Simon is always worth reading.

THE PLAYBILL BROADWAY YEARBOOK--JUNE 1, 2004-MAY 31, 2005 (also published by Applause Books) is a completely different kettle of theatre fish. Nary a nay-saying word is to be found in its pages, just a complete and chatty record of the 65 Broadway shows put on during the year in question. The 432-page tome is packed with photos of the stars who appeared in these shows, plus reproductions of the original playbills (including cast lists, bios and production personnel), backstage gossip (opening night parties & gifts, celebrity visitors, favorite cast hangouts).

Playbill has copied the format of the yearbooks we all remeber from high school and college. The company intends to produce an annual edition in the years to come, which is welcome news for any lover of Broadway theatre.