UPDATE #2 Aug. 27: Riedel responds.
Update Friday morning: Motown The Musical announced its January, 2015 closing — paving the way, maybe, for Finding Neverland to be the next tenant at the Nederlander-owned Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
The Riedel Watch: I promised occasional updates on reaction to some of my pal Michael Riedel’s more combustible columns (so many to choose from!), and on Wednesday he produced a doozy. Surveying two New York reviews of Finding Neverland, the Broadway-bound musical that opened last week at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA., Riedel complained that New York Times chief drama critic Ben Brantley and Deadline’s yours truly had “pulled our punches” in reviewing Harvey Weinstein’s show, suggesting with ever-unimpeachable taste that “if you’re going to review the baby in the cradle, strangle it.”
My own reaction is that Riedel kinda, a little bit, maybe ever-so-slightly missed the entire point. Which is that critics aren’t the enemy, and we know the difference between a finished show and one that is still undergoing gestation. We even know that audience members aren’t idiots and they, too understand the difference: Some want to see the finished show and some enjoy getting in on the creative process. I like that. (Some of my colleagues in towns where shows work out their kinks before rolling into Times Square have even taken to meeting with producers to advise them on what should happen next with their shows. I think that’s a really bad idea, but different strokes, etc. …)
Weinstein, on the other hand, had a more, well, let’s just say picturesque, response to Riedel’s column. He’s thrown down the gauntlet. Weinstein calls it The Riedel Challenge. “Though he was invited to workshops in New York, and to Boston, Michael Riedel never bothered to see Finding Neverland,” Weinstein told me yesterday. “So I fail to understand how he can consider himself an authority on the quality of the show. I also find it curious that he is taking Ben Brantley’s review of Finding Neverland as gospel — just days after he wrote a column entitled ‘New York Will Fall For Shakespeare In Love,” a new play in London, in which he calls Brantley’s opinion totally irrelevant.
“He also quotes from the strong local reviews and positive word-of-mouth.” Finding Neverland got some enthusiastic reviews from Boston critics (but no pickup in Riedel-land) and is proving to be the biggest hit the nonprofit ART has ever had. Many folks are returning to see it a second time.
So: “I challenge Michael Riedel to get on a plane and go see the show,” Weinstein says. “He can interview the entire audience and ask them what they thought of it. He can conduct his own focus group with the people of Boston. If 80% of the audience doesn’t say the show is great, I’ll eat crow” — actually, Harvey used a better word — “but if 80% of the audience does say it’s great he will have to do the same.”
Weinstein added that if Riedel’s publisher won’t pay his way, he’ll launch a Kickstarter campaign to cover the cost. And for good measure, he pointed out that among Riedel’s recent predictions were that Bullets Over Broadway would be the smash hit of the 2013-14 season, that Matilda would win the 2013 Tony Award for Best Musical and that Beautiful would win the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical. All of which bodes well for Finding Neverland.
“We’re connecting with our audience,” said Weinstein’s executive producer Victoria Parker. “We know the audience connects primarily with J.M. Barrie. The core story is what people resonate with.”
So there. And by the way, Harvey added, “Last weekend, Finding Neverland became the highest-grossing production in ART history.” There’s no profit like nonprofit.