End of Nov. 1 Column

Worst Review Ever

It amazes me that I have never told this story in my column before, but according to Google, I haven't.

On Tuesday, Oct. 19, 1971, I was a sophomore at MIT, living in the Student House co-op in Boston's Back Bay. I read the New York Times every morning (at the time, it was considered one of the exquisite perks of life in The Hub--same-day morning daily delivery of The Times, then available only in Boston, New York and Washington. Yes, children, that was a very long time ago). I read the paper pretty much cover to cover, especially the theater reviews, as I went to New York City about every other month and loved theater. The news I read in self-defense; among my journalism-happy cohort at MIT, "Did you see the article in this morning's Times" was a frequent conversation starter.

I was also interested in the reviews because I reviewed movies for The Tech (roughly one every other week for three years). On this particular morning, Clive Barnes, the Times chief theater critic, disembowled a work opening at the McAlpin Rooftop Theater called "Drat!" It was directed by Toby "Fred" Bluth (Google him yourself--he survived the review).  I would love to reproduce the whole review, but the Times charges $4 for an archive search and asks me not to redistribute it. If you want a master class in negative reviewing, buy yourself a copy of this review. I used it as a template for my own pans for three years. I probably even directly stole the syntax of my favorite phrase:

What I disliked most about the show--apart from its book, lyrics, music, scenery, costumes, lighting, staging and acting--was its extraordinarily fetid air of innuendo.

I carried that clip around in my wallet until my senior year, when my wallet was stolen. It was emblazoned on my heart, and I was still quoting it to people in my 50s. Of course, memory plays tricks. But one of the wonderful things about the Internet is that you can, with time and money, refresh your recollection with source documents. I had the quote mostly right, and now I can share it with you. I think most reviewers know that pans, especially slashing pans, are more fun to write than positive reviews, since you can really cut loose.

As an aside, Nexus/Lexus isn't pefect. A friend of mine worked for the Times in the 90s, and I asked him once to find the review. He came up dry. I found it once before and lost it; this time I am preserving the best quote and the search details in my blog--and of course, sharing them with you and everyone who ever Googles the Simpson-inflected phrase, "Worst Review Ever."

Neal Vitale reminded me of an even more famous bad review, one his uncle was fond of: "This will never do."