Superfluities' George Hunka reports (by way of UK's The Stage) on the apparent disimissal of critic Matt Wolf as the London critic for Variety over a suprisingly public disagreement with his editor Peter Bart over Billy Elliot. After Woolf gave the show a thumbs-down, Bart--a man, let's face it, with a lot more experience in Hollywood than in theatre, to put it midly--went on the record in his own pages declaring:
Variety's critic greeted the show with a fusillade of words like 'maudlin' and 'lazy,' with Elton John's music described as its 'weakest link.' This caught me off guard, since, in my opinion, Billy Elliot will clearly rank as one of the best musicals of its generation. Not since the opening of The Producers has a show left its audience on such a high.
Gee, not since 2001? Sure that's not reaching too far back, Peter?
While the bullying of Wolf couldn't be any more baldfaced, I do feel compelled to wonder if Variety doesn't have a right to define itself as a very specific kind of trade publications, more concerned with commercial prospects and prognostications than serious aesthetic criticism? If Bart took the opportunity to reconsider why Variety has critics in the first place, then I could respect that. But if he's just going to replace Wolf with a hack toady who will be called a "critic" but just bow to Bart's own personal tastes (or, worse the tastes of the producers--let alone The Producers!), then this is very, very disturbing.
Is it that unimaginable that, one day, even the blessed New York Times--in its mission to promote B'way at all costs--could do the same to a critic?