Eric Krebs -- lead producer of the musical Little Ham, which opened last night at the John Houseman Theater -- told TheaterMania this afternoon that he is "perplexed" by the fact that Bruce Weber of The New York Times wrote a largely negative review of the production after having filed an extremely positive assessment of the show in its previous incarnation at the Hudson Guild Theatre late last year.
"It seems to me that he is foolishly inconsistent in some ways," says Krebs of Weber. "In his first review, he said that the show had 'a high spirited, melodic score in an indigenous American idiom.' Now he says that 'the score, by Judd Woldin, doesn't exactly feel new. Redolent of the Harlem Renaissance, it owes its main debt to Duke Ellington.' It's the same score played by the same musicians, but [Weber] had almost an opposite response to it. Also, the first time around, he wrote that 'In the title role, André Garner couldn't be better cast' and he described him as 'a lithe and agile performer.' Now he writes that it "somehow doesn't add up to a leading man performance.' How is it possible that the same actor could elicit the opposite response?" Krebs says there is "no question" that the show was remounted largely on the basis of Weber's initial notice. "In extremely difficult circumstances, that review made it more possible to raise the money," he notes.
Reached by telephone early this afternoon, Weber stood by his review. "I'm sure Eric Krebs is not happy with me today -- but I wasn't happy with him the other night," Weber told TheaterMania in reference to his latest experience of Little Ham. "I don't know what to say about this that isn't sort of obvious. Do I feel a responsibility to write a good review again because I wrote a good review once? Obviously not."
The situation seems especially noteworthy in light of a piece that appeared several weeks ago in the Times' fall preview issue, in which Weber basically wrote that he was looking forward to seeing Little Ham again and was hoping that he'd like it as much as he did the first time. Did he have some reason to believe that he wouldn't like it as much the second time? "There is a sense of responsibility," he replies. "I stuck my neck out the last time and [was] feeling not particularly infallible as a critic. But I liked a lot of the same stuff this time that I liked last time, and I would very happily stand by both of my reviews; I don't think the first review was wrong, but I don't think this one was wrong, either." Asked if the Times considered sending another critic to see the show in its new incarnation, Weber replied: "No. I don't know that it's a written policy but, most of the time, the first person who reviews [a show] goes back if we're called on to review it again.
According to Weber, "If you look at the other reviews of Little Ham when it was at the Hudson Guild, they were all positive -- and, from what I can tell, all of them today are pretty negative. There was something that jelled the first time that didn't [jell] this time, so you point out the things that are different that might have contributed to it, [such as] the venue and the cast changes. It was very clear that the audience felt [the show] was flat. Frankly, at intermission, I was going around talking to people, hoping to find that other people were more enthusiastic than I was so that I wouldn't have to write what I knew I was going to have to write. I was hoping that, maybe, they could talk me out of it."
Weber concluded by reiterating a point he made in today's Times review in regard to the Little Ham company: "Maybe they just haven't hit their stride yet. There's a whole kind of slapstick strain to the show that was very easily ignorable the first time around -- or, at least, that didn't bug me at all because there was so much going on that I liked."
As for Eric Krebs, he and his colleagues are doing their best to regroup. "I know there's nothing in the theater that truly makes any logical sense," says the producer. "I can't speak to the logic of reviewers. I always assume that one must sell one's show not based on the critics. We need to sell the show to the people who'll love it."