Clive Barnes was a British-born American dance, drama and opera critic, writing during his career for The New York Times, The New York Post, The Times and the Daily Express and for magazines like Dance and Spectator. He also wrote, edited and contributed to many books on the performing arts. His support for dance was particularly ardent, but he also developed a great deal of public consciousness around theatre through his columns, reviews and contributions to volumes of 50 Best Plays of the American Theater and Best American Plays.
Of course, no critic is completely popular. Barnes is also the man of whom Harold Prince famously said: “I think I will declare war on this man, and I know there will be a lot of support with me to see that this man is done away with!” This was after Barnes dismissed Follies in the New York Times as ‘shallow’, with music that ‘shivers of indifference up your spine.’ (He did however, acknowledge that the some parts of the production were ‘stylish’, with ‘some of the best lyrics (he had) ever encountered’ and that the show was ‘a serious attempt to deal with the musical form’. An attempt, which Barnes infers failed because of Stephen Sondheim’s “poor” score and the ‘narrow story (that raises) expectations that are never fulfilled’.) I suppose nobody is right all of the time – but what a monumentally poor appraisal of what is one of the truly great musicals!
Even so – and in spite of his bias toward British playwrights, which never saw him acknowledge Tennesee Williams or Arthur Miller as contemporary master playwrights – Barnes’s contribution to the field of theatre criticism cannot be argued. His enthusiasm for developing awareness of all things theatrical will be missed.
Rest in Peace.