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For the RN admiral see Lord Walter Kerr

Walter Francis Kerr (July 8, 1913October 9, 1996) was an American writer and Broadway theatermarker critic. He also was the writer, lyricist, and/or director of several Broadway plays and musicals.

Kerr was born in Evanston, Illinoismarker and earned both a B.A. and M.A. from Northwestern Universitymarker.. He taught speech and drama at The Catholic University of Americamarker. After writing criticism for Commonweal he became a theater critic for the New York Herald Tribune in 1951. When that paper ended, he then began writing theater reviews for the New York Times in 1966, writing for the next seventeen years. Kerr won a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1978.

He married Jean Kerr (née Collins) on August 9, 1943. She was also a writer. Together, they wrote the musical Goldilocks (1958), which won two Tony Awards. They also collaborated on Touch and Go (1949) and King of Hearts (1954).

He was portrayed pseudonymously by David Niven in the 1960 film Please Don't Eat the Daisies based on Jean Kerr's best-selling collection of humorous essays.

In 1990, the former Ritz Theater on West 48th Street in the Theatre District, New Yorkmarker was renamed the Walter Kerr Theatre in his honor.


Some of the shows he panned over his long career included the musically ambitious shows of Stephen Sondheim. Of Sondheim's Company, Kerr wrote that the show was too cold, cynical and distant for his taste, though he "admitted to admiring large parts of the show." In his review of Sondheim's Follies, he wrote " 'Follies' " is intermissionless and exhausting, an extravaganza that becomes tedious for two simple reasons: Its extravagances have nothing to do with its pebble of a plot; and the plot, which could be wrapped up in approximately two songs, dawdles through 22 before it declares itself done...Mr. Sondheim may be too much a man of the seventies, too present-tense sophisticated...The effort to bind it up inhibits the crackling, open-ended, restlessly varied surges of sound he devised with such distinction for "Company'." He praised A Little Night Music, writing that "The score is a gift, the ladies are delightful, and producer Harold Prince has staged the moody meetings with easy skill." He expressed mixed sentiments about Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, praising the music but deeming it too lilting for the show's grisly subject, and finally writing, "What is this musical about?" As an afterthought, he wrote a follow-up article on his observation that the musical contained a plot from Molière's The School for Wives, posing the question who, of all of the authors who had revised the tale of Sweeney Todd over the years, had put the plot into the story.

Notoriously he is credited with one of the world's shortest reviews "Me no Leica" for John Van Druten's I Am a Camera in the New York Herald Tribune, December 31, 1951.

Nevertheless, in 1977, he wrote of Sondheim "I needn't tell you that Stephen Sondheim is, both musically and lyrically, the most sophisticated composer now working for the Broadway theater."

In reviewing West Side Story he focused on the dancing: "the most savage, restless, electrifying dance patterns we've been exposed to in a dozen seasons...The dancing is it. Don't look for laughter or - for that matter - tears."

In his review of the original 1956 Broadway production of Candide, he wrote that it was a "really spectacular disaster". However, in reviewing the 1973 revival of Candide he wrote that it was a "most satisfying resurrection." " 'Candide' may at last have stumbled into the best of all possible productions...The show is now a carrousel and we are on it quite safely...The design of the unending chase is so firm, the performers are so secure in their climbing and tumbling...that we are able to join the journey and still see it with the detachment that Voltaire prescribes."

Of Frank Loesser's "musical with a lot of music" [sic. opera], The Most Happy Fella he wrote: "the evening at the Imperial is finally heavy with its own inventiveness, weighted down with the variety and fulsomness of a genuinely creative appetite. It's as though Mr. Loesser had written two complete musicals-the operetta and the haymaker-on the same simple play and then crammed them both into a single structure." He wrote a favorable review of The Pajama Game: "a bright, brassy, and jubilantly sassy show [that] takes a whole barrelful of bright new talents, and a handful of stimulating ideas as well, and sends them tumbling in happy profusion over the footlights."


Books (selected)

  • How Not to Write a Play (1955)
  • Criticism and Censorship (1957)
  • Pieces at Eight (1958)
  • The Decline of Pleasure (1962)
  • The Theatre in Spite of Itself (1963)
  • Tragedy and Comedy (1967)
  • Thirty Plays Hath November (1969)
  • God on the Gymnasium Floor (1971)
  • The Silent Clowns (1975)
  • Journey to the Center of the Theater (1979)


  • Count Me In 1942 musical - wrote book
  • Sing Out, Sweet Land 1944 musical revue - wrote book and directed
  • The Song of Bernadette 1946 play - wrote book with Jean Kerr and directed
  • Touch and Go 1949 musical revue - wrote sketches and lyrics with Jean Kerr and directed
  • King of Hearts 1954 play - directed (written by Jean Kerr and Eleanor Brooke)
  • Goldilocks 1958 musical - wrote book and lyrics with Jean Kerr and Joan Ford (lyrics) and directed


  1. Walter Kerr, accessed July 4, 2009
  2. Benedick, Adam. "Obituary: Walter Kerr,", 21 October 1996
  3. "Pulitzer Prize for Criticism", accessed July 4, 2009
  4. , April 12, 1954
  5. Rothstein, Mervyn. "Broadway Musical Tribute To the Critic Walter Kerr,"The New York Times, March 6, 1990
  6. Miletich, p.51
  7. Kerr, Walter. "Follies", The New York Times, p. D1, April 11, 1971
  8. Kerr, Walter. The New York Times, "Who Could Resist These Women?", p. 119, March 4, 1973
  9. Kerr, Walter. The New York Times, "Is 'Sweeney' on Target?", 1979
  10. Kerr, Walter. The New York Times, "Who Sneaked the Molière into 'Sweeney Todd'?", 1979
  11. Botto, Louis. "Quotable Critics", May 28, 2008
  12. Kerr, Walter. "Broadway is Alive with the Sound of Music", The New York Times p. D5, May 1, 1977
  13. Block, Geoffrey Holden. Enchanted Evenings (2004), Oxford University Press US, ISBN 0195167309, p. 245
  14. Candide at Bernstein",, accessed July 4, 2009
  15. Kerr, Walter. "Best of All Candides?", The New York Times, p. 55, December 30, 1973
  16. Riis, Thomas Laurence and Block, Geoffrey. Frank Loesser (2008), Yale University Press, ISBN 0300110510, p.161
  17. Miletich, p.29


  • Miletich, Leo N. Broadway's prize-winning musicals (1993), Haworth Press, ISBN 1560242884

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