Ben Brantley, current second-string critic of The New York Times, is now chief critic, according to a brief article in the June 11 Times.
Vincent Canby, 71, chief drama critic for the paper since December 1994, will return to the post of Sunday critic, a position he held for a year beginning in December 1993, while Margo Jefferson, 48, who currently holds the Sunday position, will switch to writing about cultural affairs. No successor to the second-string post was announced.
Brantley's tenure as chief theater critic will begin in September with the commencement of the fall theater season. Brantley, 41, becomes the fourth theater critic to hold the powerful lead position in less than four years. Frank Rich, chief critic for 13 years until 1993, departed to become an op-ed columnist for the Times, and was succeeded by David Richards, who left after a year and was replaced by Canby.
It seems the influence of the Times' critical opinion over New York's theatrical industry has diminished since the late 80's and early 90's, when the power of the Times' chief drama critic was considered unassailable. Producers accused Rich, chief critic at the time, of being able to close their shows with a harshly worded pan. This friction led to several notable tiffs between the critic and such theatrical giants as producer David Merrick (1990's Oh, Kay revival) and playwright David Hare (The Secret Rapture).
More recently, reviews from the Times have demonstrated a more moderate effect on the financial health of theatrical productions. Canby's recent pan of the King and I revival, amid a sea of raves from other critics, hasn't drastically harmed the show's box office receipts, while Brantley's enthusiastic notice for The Skriker wasn't enough to ensure a commercial transfer after the show's closing at the Public Theater.