Sunday, July 1, 2007

Thin-Skinned Sin City

I begin this post by stating, for the record, that I admire Clint Holmes. He is a terrific song-and-dance man, a tireless supporter of many important causes in the community and a genuine, all-around nice fellow. Even the requisite self-promotion all of us who make our living on the brand equity of our names and reputations must commit to flows out of him with about as little egotism as I've ever known from a celebrity.

So I'm a fan and have promoted his now-gone Harrah's show on many opportunities, most notably when I offered it as an alternative to Celine Dion is a L.A. Times Travel Section cover piece called "Vegas' Seven Deadliest Sins."

Which is why I'm disappointed to hear from more than one source that Clint confronted one of the few truly honest theater critics in a city full of hacks willing to write praise in exchange for dinner and/or a show about a scathing assessment of Clint's autobiographical musical, "Just Another Man." The show had a three-week run at UNLV in June in an effort to see how it works on stage and, perhaps, move it along to London or Broadway.

Critic Anthony Del Valle of Review-Journal hated the show. Intensely. He rendered it a D+ under the headline "Holmes' 'Just Another Man' not legitimate theater." You can read it for yourself; I'm not interested here in debating Del Valle's critical abilities or flaws. That's besides the point.

The point is, Del Valle takes his job extremely seriously and is despised by many for it. He's as likely to give a lousy (or terrific) grade to a high school production as to multimillion-dollar Strip show, pulling no punches and sparing no feelings. He honest to goodness only cares about giving his unfettered evaluation to the people who pay for it, the readers of his newspaper. Many of those hacks I referenced above will actually suck up to the talent and the PR folks involved with the shows he pans by attacking him.

Clint was understandably disappointed by Del Valle's review. It no doubt threw him off guard. He'd been enjoying uninterrupted showers of praise from his many friends in the local media for the admirable nature of the ambitious project he was undertaking. He'd dreamed for years about "Just Another Man" and now it was being realized on a Vegas stage with a lineup of terrific talent, including former "Mamma Mia!" star Tina Walsh.

Yet what Clint did next was wrong: He angrily stomped up to Del Valle a few weeks later and expressed his dismay. Strangely, he did it at a reception in plain view of a fleet of theater critics who were in Las Vegas for a critics' convention. Here's Del Valle's account, which has been corroborated by others who were there:

Clint "came up to me and said, 'Do you have any idea what it's like to work hard for years with people you love and then be told by a critic that all your effort is only worth a D+?' I was too surprised to say anything. And then he said, 'We need encouragement. And you know we get standing ovations every night.' "

Del Valle responded that as a critic, the response of the audience is not something that ought to impact his own judgment. Clint apparently backed off a mite, suggesting the two have coffee and discuss the show. That date hasn't happened as yet.

Now, I can't speak to whether Clint's show was any good because, quite regretfully, I didn't get to see it. I was overwhelmed by work on media night, then June zipped by and suddenly the run was over. But even if I had -- and even if I had enjoyed it more than Del Valle -- I would still have been surprised that a seasoned pro like Clint had such a thin-skinned reaction.

On a personal level, I empathize. As a new book author, I cringe at the likelihood that someone will tear apart what I just worked so hard to create. But I also know that that is the risk that all creative people face when we attempt to sell our creations to the public for money, and it's something that folks on Broadway and in Hollywood understands is part of the bargain. The implication here, though, is that Del Valle should have sugarcoated his critique or not written about it "Just Another Man" at all because such ambition and creative industry deserves unmitigated "encouragement."

I shudder to wonder how Clint may respond if the show does make it to London or New York or another entertainment capital where Clint hasn't built up all the good will he's earned in Las Vegas. How will he deal when dozens of Del Valles render honest assessments of it, uninterested in how earnest or kind a person he may be?

I take on this topic because it reflects a broader problem here in Las Vegas, one that harms every tourist who visits. If there is one thing this city sorely needs, it is a robust league of genuine, beholden-to-nobody critics in a variety of arenas - art, theater, food, architecture, etc. If this city is ever to truly join the ranks of any of those disciplines and ever be seen as a city with some cultural -- and not merely commercial -- impact, we will need to develop that. There are a few I admire, to be sure, but they and I are drowned out routinely by the cacophony of faux reviewers, frequently paid in cash or in kind to write happy talk and have it published for the purpose of obtaining those ecstatic blurbs meant to deceive those who would spend their money.

Just a thought.


David K said...

Just more proof of the too-cozy relationship between the media and the casino interests in las vegas. glad folks like you and that critic exist!