* KCRW switches theater commentators: Critic out, stage producer in
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Exit another theater critic, enter a theater insider.
Those are the stage directions coming from KCRW-FM (89.9). The Santa Monica-based public radio outlet announced Friday that the curtain has closed on James C. Taylor’s seven-year run of four-minute weekly reviews and commentaries in the Thursday afternoon ‘Theatre Talk’ spot. Opening Tuesday at 4:44 p.m. is a new take on the stage, ‘Opening the Curtain on L.A. Theatre,’ with Anthony Byrnes.
The idea is to keep the focus strictly on the Los Angeles stage, rather than the wider view ‘Theatre Talk’ would sometimes take, said Matt Holzman, a longtime KCRW staff member who recently became director of program development after Jennifer Ferro succeeded Ruth Seymour as general manager in February.
Byrnes certainly has been in the belly of the L.A. theater beast: He’s a producer of ‘Live at the Sahara,’ the L.A.-spawned musical about Louis Prima and Keely Smith that has Broadway ambitions, and from 1999 to 2005 he was associate producer for new play development for Center Theatre Group, the biggest stage company in town.
According to his bio on the website of the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, where he teaches theater movement classes, Byrnes has acted and directed as well.
All of which raises the question: Will a fully immersed fellow like Byrnes pull punches that an arm’s-length observer like Taylor (a regular freelance contributor to the Los Angeles Times since 2003) would not hesitate to land? (He’s hardly the only L.A. theater critic to have his job eliminated or downsized: see here).
‘Somebody who is part of the L.A. theater community...might be a little more of a booster or promoter of L.A. theater,’ Taylor said Friday, allowing that being on the inside can also lend a useful perspective. Given how ‘spread out’ the L.A. theater scene is, Taylor said, the job of commenting on it weekly is ‘hard to do. I wish anyone who comes next luck.’
Holzman said he’s certain that Byrnes will call ‘em as he sees ‘em in commentaries that often will aim to take a review of a specific show as a jumping-off point for larger insights about the L.A. stage scene -- ‘what it’s doing well, and what it needs to strive for.’ ‘He’s not a guy who pulls his punches, and doesn’t give a crap if he knows you or not,’ the KCRW executive continued. ‘The theater is so important to this guy that if [something] doesn’t hold up, he’s going to tell you.’
Taylor said he learned about the change on Friday, and regretted not being able to share some parting thoughts with his on-air audience.
Culture Monster offered him a few words, and here’s some of the brief statement he e-mailed us:'Talking about theater on the radio for seven years has been a delight. Ruth Seymour and [producer] Sarah Spitz at KCRW encouraged me to say exactly what I wanted.... Not all writers are so lucky.’
-- Mike Boehm
Updated: May 7, 9:09 p.m. The original post omitted ‘County’ in Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.