In New York, Variety stage critic's departure is seen as 'a great loss to the theater community'
These days, news about arts journalists losing their jobs has become all too common. However, Variety's decision to lay off its chief theater critic, David Rooney, is worth noting because Rooney's position and, more important, his reputation for smart, substantial analysis made him a big player in America's preeminent theater town.
"This is a great loss to the theater community," says Robyn Goodman, producer of "Avenue Q," "In the Heights" and "American Idiot," the Green Day album-inspired musical that opens on Broadway in April. "First, it hurts the depth of criticism we need in terms of getting all kinds of opinions about shows.
"But in particular," says Goodman, "it's about David. He is a true critic. I don't say that glibly. He would talk about plays and musicals and really break them down and talk about why they worked or didn't. He wasn't trying to write quotes that would end up on someone's marquee or make people laugh or sound trendy. He was really interested in the work."
Variety announced the departures of Rooney and chief film critic Todd McCarthy on Monday. The paper has said it will replace full-time reviewers by continuing to rely mainly on free-lancers. (Rooney and McCarthy reportedly were invited to stay on as free-lancers themselves.)
Rooney started to work for Variety in Rome in 1991, first as a free-lancer and then as chief Italian correspondent and film reviewer. He moved to New York in 2003 and was named chief theater critic and theater editor in 2004.
Several other New York area critics have fallen victim to the rocky economy, although none was in a position as prominent as Rooney's.
In Los Angeles, the ranks of on-staff stage reviewers have been reduced as well. In the past year or two, Steven Leigh Morris lost his theater editor's job at the L.A. Weekly (he still writes for the paper as a critic-at-large). Evan Henerson was let go by the Los Angeles Daily News and Jim Farber by the Daily Breeze. The closure of the alternative weekly Los Angeles CityBeat in March 2009 temporarily silenced theater critic Don Shirley, who is also a former writer for the Los Angeles Times. He now appears at LAStageBlog.com.