Review Plight Snags Musical in Web of Conflict

From Associated Press

To review or not to review.

The dilemma has spun a web of controversy and conflict around "Kiss of the Spider Woman," the first offering of an ambitious, for-profit laboratory for new American musicals.

A musical version of the film that won William Hurt an Oscar was reviewed today in The New York Times by its chief theater critic, Frank Rich, despite pleas by the organization presenting what it calls a workshop production.

The organization, New Musicals, says it had sought a no-review policy from the media for its season of shows that began May 1 with "Spider Woman." The musical is being performed through June 24 at the State University of New York at Purchase, 25 miles north of New York City.

"We tried to create an alternative method of development to Broadway," Martin J. Bell, producing director of New Musicals, said Thursday. "If the Times policy stands, I would recommend to a writer or a director that they do a show right on Broadway instead of coming here. What they did was invade the work process here."

A review by Rich usually can make or break a show on Broadway. New Musicals had hoped to keep The New York Times from reviewing the show, which is undergoing changes and rewrites during its two-month run in Purchase.

Rich's review, largely negative, finds irony in what he describes as the overly elaborate, Broadway-style staging.

Other New York critics were informed of the Times' decision to review the show, and several decided to do their own pieces before Rich's notice came out.

Clive Barnes, theater critic of the New York Post, said the Times' review policy made it impossible for him to ignore the musical. He panned the show in Thursday's newspaper, but was even more scathing about The New York Times' policy for the show.

A Daily News critic will review the show today and other critics, including those of Variety and The Associated Press, plan to review it soon.

Interest in "Kiss of the Spider Woman" has been high since the project was announced in January. The musical involves some of Broadway's biggest talents.

The show is directed by Harold Prince, director of "The Phantom of the Opera," and has a book by playwright Terrence McNally. The score was written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, the team behind "Cabaret" and "Zorba."

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