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last updated: 6/9/2010

Finding Play Reviews

Finding Play Reviews: A Resource Guide

                      
             Recreating a certain play's particular performance, whether on paper or through the production process itself, can be a daunting task.  Looking at the reviews published after an opening night, or comparing critiques of an original production to reviews of later revivals is an essential part of piecing together not only the creative history of a play over years that helped bring the piece to life time and again, but also the history of a play's public and cultural reception in particular time periods. 

            The following research guide will be of use to anyone starting the search for play reviews.  The guide covers mostly American theater, and a good deal of resources listed are devoted to New York theater productions only.  Resources for finding reviews as far back as 1849 are listed, extending to the present with collections of reviews of performances just opening on Broadway.  Both print and electronic resources are listed, including periodicals, books, electronic databases and regularly updated websites. 

 



Print Resources

 

New York Theatre Critics' Reviews.  1940-1994.  New York: Critics' Theatre Reviews, Inc. 

 

This journal collected reviews of most plays produced in New York from 1940 to 1994.  Both local and national periodicals are represented, such as Newsweek, The New Yorker and The Village Voice, and many important plays have numerous reviews (most have at least two).  An index for the years 1940 to 1972 is bound in a separate volume; after 1972, each volume is equipped with its own index.  Regardless, if one is looking for reviews for a particular play, it will make searching easier if the opening year is known before approaching this resource.

 

The New York Times Theater Reviews.  1885-2000.  New York: New York Times.

 

This collection contains all theater reviews printed in The New York Times between 1885 and 2000.  The reviews are listed by date published rather than by play title, so the opening year of the production is important to know before coming to this resource.  The indexes to the volumes dedicated to 1870 to 1970 are bound separately, but after 1970, an individual index can be found in the back of each separate volume.  Look for the Title Index for specific titles.

 

Slide, Anthony, ed.  Selected Theatre Criticism.  Vols. 1-3.  Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1985. 

 

This collection of criticism contains complete reviews from a handful of popular theater periodicals (including Life, The New Yorker and The New York Dramatic Mirror) for New York productions from 1900 to 1950.  The majority of entries only have about one to two reviews per play, although a very popular play will have numerous reviews.  Plays are listed by title in alphabetical order.

 

Marks, Patricia, ed.  American Literary and Drama Reviews: An Index to Late 19th Century Periodicals.  Boston, Mass.: G.K. Hall, 1984.

 

This resource covers reviews for mostly American plays produced between 1880 and 1900, a time period not often touched on by other resources.  The book is divided into two sections: the first lists drama reviews of particular plays (of specific performances), the second lists literary reviews of plays (discussions of a particular play or playwright's cultural and literary merit).  In the first section, entries are in alphabetical order by play title; in the second they are listed by playwright.  Only the citation (not the full-text) of each review or article is listed in an abbreviated format; the collection covers 13 sources overall, including Illustrated American, New York Illustrated Times and Life. 

 

Salem, James M., ed.  A Guide to Critical Reviews, 3rd ed.  Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1984.

This resource offers reviews for a wider variety of theater genres than most sources.  Part I covers American drama from 1909 to 1982, Part II offers criticism of musicals from 1909 to 1989, and Part III (Indiana University, Bloomington only have the 2nd edition of this volume) contains reviews for foreign dramas from 1909 to 1977.  Major popular sources in the U.S. are included, and the books contain reviews of original productions as well as any revivals produced during the time periods covered.



Electronic Databases

 

Lexis-Nexis Academic.  Lexis Nexis.

Coverage: 1970s-present

 

Go to Guided News Search, and type in review in one search box, and the name of the play in the next search box, neither limited to a particular field.  You must limit by news source and region; this database offers the significant benefit of indexing not only U.S. news sources, but also prominent newspapers and journals from other countries as well, so it's a good place to turn if you need international reviews.  It is important to note that the database automatically limits you to only materials of the past six months- be sure and designate a different time if you would like a more broad period of coverage.  You can also limit by specific news source.

 

Historical Newspapers.  Proquest.

Chicago Tribune, Coverage: 1849-1985

Los Angeles Times, Coverage: 1881-1985

New York Times, Coverage: 1851-2003

Washington Post, Coverage: 1877-1990

 

These databases offer an extremely rich collection of newspaper articles in their original printed format, including reviews of just about any play produced in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York or Washington during the time periods covered.  Any photos of the plays that were published with the original reviews are also included, making this a valuable resource for those searching for an authentic recreation of a particular play's production.   You can limit your search by selecting Reviews from the Document Type field, and if you want to search multiple newspapers at once, click on Select Multiple Databases and check all the newspapers you would like to include in the search.

 

Reader's Guide Retrospective, 1890-1982.  H.W. Wilson.

Coverage: 1890-1982


This database covers major popular magazines (Time, The New Yorker, The New Republic, etc.) in the U.S. from the years 1890-1982.  Although it does not have full-text reviews, it’s a great place to start a search for reviews in prominent American print sources.  Type review in the first search box, limited to subject, and the name of the play in the next box (not limited to a particular field). 

 

International Index to the Performing Arts.  Chadwyck-Healey.

Coverage: 1864-2006

 

This database is a great resource for tracking down citations to theater reviews, especially for those looking for reviews in specifically drama-focused periodicals (a broad spectrum of theater magazines and journals are represented, including American Theater, The Drama Review, and New Theater Magazine).  It also may be one of the best resources to use when searching for reviews of performances abroad, as periodicals from France, England and Russia are all included.  When searching, type Review into the document type field.  If you get too many results with the play's title in the keyword field, try it in the Subject Terms field.

 


 

On-line Resources for Current Plays 


Curtain Up: The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
.

http://www.curtainup.com/

 

This is a more informal site which posts reviews for plays not only in New York, but also in California, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia, among other cities and states; ultimately, the geographical diversity of the plays it reviews is one of the site’s most appealing features, especially for researchers looking for reviews of smaller productions.  Most of the critics who contribute reviews have a substantial background in theater.

 

New York Times [Online]: Theater. 

http://www.nytimes.com/library/theater/

This collection of reviews is a great online archive from one of New York’s most reputable sources.  They have a search option, which is a nice feature that allows you to bypass sorting through lists, and they have an archive of older reviews for any play still running.  Please note: an account with the New York Times Online is required to view some of the pages on this site.  The full-text of the New York Times [in print], including any published reviews, can be found in Lexis-Nexis (see above). 

 

NYtheatre.com

http://www.nytheatre.com/

This site includes reviews of any currently-running plays in New York.  The site is divided up by type of play, including a category Just for Kids, as well as a Late Night section (which includes reviews of sketch comedy groups and variety shows). 


This guide was created by Sara Franks, and last updated in June 2007.
last updated: 6/9/2010