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A Renowned Theater Critic Remembered 

Michael C. Kuchwara ’68, a graduate of what was then known as the Syracuse University School of Journalism (now the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications), died on May 22 at age 63 after a brief illness. Just months earlier, he had celebrated his 40th anniversary as a journalist with The Associated Press (AP), and his 25th year as the news organization’s theater critic. Being a theater critic was his dream career, and sorrowful plaudits poured in from dozens of journalistic comrades and Broadway luminaries, from The New York Times critic Charles Isherwood to Rocco Landesman, former head of the Shubert organization and current chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Last year, Variety, the entertainment industry bible, dubbed Kuchwara “the most influential legit critic in America.” 

Following is a personal and professional remembrance by a fellow ’68 graduate and journalist, Mary Anne Ramer.

“My friend, Michael...”
 
I will probably have few good reasons to say or think that at all, soon.
 
It was just last December that Michael invited me to a play, as he often did since becoming the AP’s theater maven in 1984. Over dinner afterward, we both realized that, aside from living family members, we were each other’s oldest friend.
 
We met─or I should say collided─in fall 1964. We were both running at full tilt to get to Reporting 101, one of four undergraduate courses we must pass successfully if we were to be granted admission to the upperclass journalism major. The rule of all these
classes was brutally simple: one second late, and marked absent. Two absences, automatic failure. It was a very real-world lesson in the journalistic reality of THE DEADLINE.
 
What a mistress, that deadline. But Michael, both in his lifelong profession as journalist and critic, and in his personal life as a notoriously kind soul, seemed to me to turn nearly everything he possibly could into a lifeline. For me and for many who knew him, Michael did all he could to help every friend, every producer, and every audience succeed─to live out their dreams.
 
As a professional, he was a journalist of tireless dedication, integrity, passion, and encyclopedic knowledge of his lifelong love, the theater. In his more than 25 years of reviewing for the millions of AP readers, he never stopped loving the small, authentic stage success over the large, loud, faux Miller, faux Sondheim, or faux Lloyd Webber lookalike.
 
Like great plays, Michael’s life leaves a deep memory of generosity on one’s soul. My own sadness is tempered by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s advice: “A long life may be good enough, but a good life is always long enough.”
 
So, whenever I go to the theater, I will say at the rising of the curtain, “Michael, I shall remember you.”

 

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press