JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE THEATER by Walter Kerr

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE THEATER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Broadway, 1971-1978--a period that finds Walter Kerr, in this gathering of 60+ columns from The New York Times, delighted with the theater's recent boom but also aware that ""Broadway has not recovered its full creative powers."" In fact, despite all those bustling box offices and new talent sources, Kerr's most genuine enthusiasm--and a sneakily large proportion of the book--is devoted to nostalgia and other looks backward: valentines to ancient musicals like No, No, Nanette, paeans to sturdy old friends like Gypsy and My Fair Lady, and reflections on the right and wrong ways to approach the ever-impressive classics. A few fresh artistic developments do inspire Kerr--Equus (""The closest I have seen a contemporary play come to reanimating the spirit of mystery that makes the stage a place of breathless discovery. . ."") and Andrei Serban's Cherry Orchard, which ""swept through the vast white-on-white reaches of the Vivian Beaumont stage like a circus-bred whirlwind bent on making the world clean. . . ."" But more often he goes at the Big Hits of the decade obliquely, seizing on some lesson to be learned, some technical accomplishment to be relished: he can't really rave about Chorus Line (all that self-pity and ""ordinariness""); he's turned off by Streamers (""We may take a considerable admiration home from the theater with us, as I did. But how many of us are willing to take despair for a bedmate?""); and he doesn't know quite how to deal with abrasive newcomers like Albert Innaurato. There's a tension here--a desire to celebrate despite being constantly disappointed (a disappointment that leaps forward in an assault on the use of theater microphones). And that tension isn't always concealed by Kerr's uncanny ability to deliver up even the tiniest moment of truth or brilliance. In one area, however, he is on eternal solid ground: when Kerr revels in star performances--here they include turns by Merman, George C. Scott, Alec Guiness, and Zero Mostel--he remains incomparably evocative and authentic. On the whole, then: stylish and smart, as ever, but far from a sharp, clear reflection of sloppy, tinny, rich Broadway in the Seventies.

Pub Date: May 23rd, 1979
Publisher: Knopf