Jacques le Sourd, the longtime theater critic of The Journal News, has died. He collapsed on Feb. 5, outside the home of friends in Preston, Lancashire, England, where he had been living for more than a year. He was 64.
Le Sourd left the paper in June 2009 when The Journal News eliminated the Broadway critic’s position. But for 34 years, le Sourd covered Broadway, Off-Broadway and local theater with a pen that flowed equally well whether crafting a pick or a pan.
In a 2008 review, he wrote: “‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone,’ now at Playwrights Horizons, is a play about a dead man’s cell phone. The play barely has a pulse. It comes from a special land of catatonia, colonized of late by the playwright Sarah Ruhl.”
In a 2007 review of the play “Is He Dead?” he wrote of its star, Norbert Leo Butz: “(He) is a comedic eruption, like Danny Kaye or Jerry Lewis. In another day he would be propelled into movie stardom and never look back to Broadway. As it is, he is available to you right now on the live stage, and you shouldn’t miss him.”
Born in Paris to parents who were academics, Jacques le Sourd graduated from the University of Chicago in 1971 with a political science degree. He moved to New York and joined Gannett two days after his 23rd birthday.
After covering local news, he became drama critic for Gannett Suburban Newspapers, the predecessor to The Journal News. In 1978, his reviews were syndicated nationally, reaching readers at nearly 100 newspapers. He served four years as president of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle, from 1997-2000.
After leaving the paper, he did “Talkin’ Broadway” segments on CBS radio.
Le Sourd was an old-school critic of the first order, always nattily attired in a Hermes tie and blue blazer in an age when most critics dressed down. As the Journal News’ man on the aisle on Broadway, he sat stoically, without betraying his opinion of the work in question. He might jot a note or two, but he would not applaud. As a rule, he would try to enter and exit in near darkness: He was among the last people to take his seat at press performances and among the first to leave, preferring not to hear the comments of those around him, lest they sway his opinion.
Le Sourd would often bring starstruck colleagues to shows he knew they would appreciate.
CynDee Royle, Journal News editor and news vice president, recalled one such occasion.
“I remember trying very hard to contain my delight at seeing Reba McIntyre in ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ with him,” she said. “He leaned over and whispered, ‘You know, it’s OK if you clap.”
TimeOut New York’s Adam Feldman, president of the New York Drama Critics Circle, said: “Jacques was a member of a slightly now disappearing breed of theater writers. He didn’t take himself too seriously. He seemed to genuinely enjoy the act of going to the theater.”
In a theater calendar that included busy stretches that had him at press nights most every night, Feldman said le Sourd had “a merry warrior disposition about it.”
“He still dressed up for the theater and for years, he brought his mother. He was always courtly in taking care of her and he was deeply affected when she died.”
Feldman said le Sourd and the Associated Press’ Michael Kuchwara, who died at 63 in 2010, were two of a kind.
“It’s hard to believe they’re both gone,” Feldman said. “They were writing for a diverse audience, a general audience, and they adjusted their perspectives accordingly.”
Perhaps it was the old-school critic in him that drew le Sourd to work with the Clive Barnes Foundation, named for the late great New York critic. The foundation gives awards to young actors and dancers.
Barnes’ widow, Valerie, said le Sourd had a great eye for talent.
“He was a great scout and an absolute gentleman,” she said. “Jacques was … well, he was French.”
When last they spoke, Barnes recalled with a laugh: “He said he loved England, because he could get all his medicines for free. And I thought, ‘Well! And he’s not even English!’ But I didn’t say anything to him.”
Angus McIndoe, who for years was the maître d’ at the Broadway haunt Joe Allen on West 46th Street before opening his eponymous restaurant two blocks down, said leSourd “knew his theater like no one else, and he was opinionated in at least two languages.”
He recalled that the critic would stop in post-show and, at Joe Allen, always sat at Table 7, where he would hold court.
“He couldn’t eat a steak for lunch. He could only have one at 11:30 at night,” McIndoe said, adding that when after McIndoe opened his own place, le Sourd “told me the only room he liked was on the third floor, but he couldn’t be bothered with the elevator.”
Terry Kidder, a 30-year friend of le Sourd’s, said he’ll remember “his incredible intellect and his wonderful spirit and great humor and bonhomie. Always a gentleman.”
Kidder added that when le Sourd left for England, he was his ever enthusiastic self.
Soon after leaving the paper, le Sourd made one of his regular appearances on the WNET/Channel 13 show, “Theater Talk.”
Susan Haskins, the show’s co-host and producer, said: “He was already booked to do our critics panel with Mike Kuchwara and John Heilpern who was at the New York Observer. And Jacques talked about being laid off and having the position eliminated and he said ‘And now it’s up to Mike Kuchwara.’ And they talked about the death of criticism and that’s what we called the show: The Death of Criticism. Within a year, Kuchwara had died and Heilpern had quit at the Observer. Now, he’s at Vanity Fair. That’s my most vivid thought was how perceptive his statement was at the time. And that was before Howard Kissel died.”
Added Haskins: “He brought such wit and intelligence and elegance. And he had great rapport with both Micheal Reidel and myself. It was always so much fun to have him on the show. He was also a very astute judge of the theater, although sometimes I disagreed with him.”
He was featured in the 2007 film, “ShowBusiness,” which chronicled the 2003-04 Broadway season, offering his thoughts at a Joe Allen roundtable.
Katy McCormick, le Sourd’s host in England, met the critic when he wrote for McCormick’s aunt, Gannett features editor Kathie Beals. When his apartment became unlivable, le Sourd went to Beals’ home for a night and stayed a few months. Even though they shared a house, McCormick’s path rarely crossed with le Sourd’s, with the critic off to the city just as McCormick was leaving it.
“I heard at dinner about this amazing man, and what great martinis he made,” she said. “So I slipped a note under his door and said we should have dinner. We kind of had a blind date at the Larchmont Tavern.”
Broadway publicist Richard Kornberg spoke about introducing le Sourd, a Parisian, to the world of The Hamptons, and how — as he did throughout his life — the writer fit right into his new surroundings.
Le Sourd, who suffered a stroke in 1999, died coming home from an errand.
“He had been to the store to buy some decent gin,” McCormick said. “He didn’t like the gin we had. He collapsed on the sidewalk just outside our home. A neighbor called the ambulance, but there was nothing to be done. But the gin bottle survived, and I have the idea that somehow, at some level, he fell gently so as not to break the bottle of gin.”
The secret to le Sourd’s martini, McCormick said, was “he didn’t believe in keeping the gin in the same cupboard as the vermouth. The vermouth and gin were kept strangers, strictly at arm’s length.”
Le Sourd, a son of Paris, took to Lancashire a house afire, McCormick said, toting a proper British Briggs umbrella suitable for P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster.
“He loved the shops. I sent him out to buy a cocktail shaker, because the one we had wasn’t big enough for Jacques le Sourd-sized cocktails.” He was shocked to learn that the shopgirl hadn’t tried to sell him the store’s most-expensive shaker, something that never would have happened in New York.”
He delighted in walking Zebo, McCormick’s Jack Russell-poodle mix.
“When my husband and I take Zebo for a walk, he runs around like a maniac,” she said. “When Jacques takes Zebo for a walk, they take tiny steps, thinking their big thoughts. Jacques knows the names of every dog in Preston.”
Le Sourd is survived by a sister, Liliane Maginot, in Schererville, Ind., two nieces, Suzie and Stephanie, and two godsons, Trevor Picot of New York and Bill Houghton of Preston. Funeral arrangements are pending, McCormick said.