David Lister: Even Lloyd Webber couldn't fight the power of the blogger

The Week in Arts

The early closure of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical after just a year is newsworthy in itself.

But the decision to close his latest, the Phantom of the Opera sequel Love Never Dies, after such a short period is more than newsworthy. It is a turning point for West End theatre.

Forget the stories that the initial reviews were poor. They were the usual mixed bag, with this paper actually giving the show a five-star rave. When the production was tweaked recently by impresario Bill Kenwright, it became even better, as a quote from my own review of the tweaked production says on the posters. This show is not closing because of anything the recognised critics may have written. It is closing because of three words used by an anonymous blogger.

This phantom blogger (if Lord Lloyd-Webber will excuse the description) attended a preview, disliked it, and posted a blog before the show had even officially opened under the name West End Whingers. He (or perhaps she) pungently nicknamed the musical "Paint Never Dries".

The joke, just the right length for a headline, was picked up by a number of newspapers and spread rapidly on the net. To the fury of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the agenda was set before the opening night. Those three little words appeared in article after article, and Love Never Dies never really recovered.

Nor has the West End recovered. The realisation has dawned that the importance of the critic is no longer paramount. It is the blogger, the anonymous theatregoer, who has the power to make or break a show. He or she can attend a preview, come up with a memorably damning phrase, which then goes viral and puts tens of thousands of people off buying tickets.

No wonder West End producers are panicking. They may have never loved the established critics, but they knew their foibles; they knew where they were coming from, and they knew they would usually wait for the official first night. The bloggers don't abide by rules; their views are utterly unpredictable, and they have a large readership.

I've heard an intriguing rumour that one producer got wind of an unfavourable comment about a new show – this time on Twitter rather than a blog – traced the tweeter, and made some pretty heavy threats to force him to delete the tweet.

Producers are panicking, but perhaps the rest of us should be more relaxed. In fact, we should be pleased. What we are seeing is the democratisation of criticism. Every theatregoer has a right to express their view about a show. No one group of writers has a monopoly on criticism any more. I firmly expect to see positive blogs and tweets quoted on the billboards outside theatres in the future. And no amount of threats will keep the negative ones away for long.

The new age of criticism is here. And Andrew Lloyd Webber, as so often, is in the vanguard. He has just become the first victim.

Hollywood walk of the slightly famous

One of the guilty pleasures of a visit to Los Angeles is treading the Hollywood Walk of Fame and looking down at the names of a century of legends. This week the Hollywood Walk of Fame selection committee announced its nominations for the latest additions – or, as they termed it, "a fabulous slate of stars to add sparkle and lustre" – to the famed sidewalk. They included Kate Winslet, which seems reasonable, Jennifer Lopez, which seems slightly less reasonable, and, with a nod to the music industry, musicians Boyz II Men and Ann and Nancy Wilson of the band Heart, which seems downright disrespectful to historic paving stones.

Legends they ain't. Quite how does the puzzled tourist make the logical leap from Jimmy Stewart, Greta Garbo and Sean Connery to Ann and Nancy Wilson? The grandly titled Hollywood Walk of Fame Selection Committee needs to think more clearly about what the words Hollywood and fame actually mean.



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