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R.I.P. former CityLife stage critic Tony Del Valle

You can champion blunt honesty all you want, but you’ll never gauge the true thickness of your skin until you’ve been evaluated by theater critic Anthony Del Valle. Local entertainment figures — and theater students and newspaper editors — past and present can attest to this. But his commentary always came from a place of concern and, more often than some would admit, compassion. If Tony laid into you, for whatever reason, it was because he cared.

On May 20, Del Valle, 60, passed away, never having fully recovered after a serious back injury. The native New Yorker, also a playwright and drama instructor, began covering theater locally at CityLife in 1997 until moving to the now-defunct Mercury and the Review-Journal in 2003.

Del Valle was passionate even for a theaterphile. If you told him you hated musicals, he’d breathlessly make the case for them. And if you happened to love a certain musical that he didn’t, he’d just as emphatically level the production — though making sure to constructively address its shortcomings. He was specific and thorough, yet never mechanical. His remarks, positive or negative, pulsed with a heartbeat, and his extensive experience showed in his contextualization — editorial attributes that elevated him above his peers and, at one point, earned him a standing offer to cover theater for the Los Angeles Times.

Tony covered his beat so exhaustively because he felt the public deserved to know the artistic quality of a production before it plunked down cash for a ticket, and the participants of said productions deserved an honest appraisal of their efforts. His editorial ultimately encouraged a strong, diverse, ambitious and vital theater scene that one day would escape the shadow of the Strip and compare to those in bigger cities. And if that’s what local thespians aimed to accomplish, Tony rightfully held them to their goal.

No longer can they scan the aisle chairs to check for his attendance — though Tony will always be watching them from that great balcony seat in the sky.

A longer, modified version of this story can be found on the Culture Alert blog.