Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Frances Baum Nicholson spent 40+ years as a theatrical critic for Pasadena-area newspapers, beginning with the Altadena Chronicle (which, after her time there, became the Pasadena Weekly), then the Pasadena Star-News, joined since 1990 by the related papers of the San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group, and then the Southern California Newspaper Group, though her work rarely appeared there after they dropped most theatrical reviews from all their papers in October of 2018.
Born in an “educational trunk” (her mother and grandmother both performed and taught theater, and her mother was also a theatrical critic late in life), she studied theater as well as history at The University of the Pacific, and holds an MFA in writing from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky.
Highlights of her critical career have included covering the Olympic Arts Festival in 1984, attending the grand reopening of the Pasadena Playhouse and of the remodeled Ahmanson, and meeting Penn and Teller before they were famous. She has interviewed such people as Anna Russell, Carol Channing, Ian McKellen, the singers of Ladysmith Black Mombazo, famed female impersonator Charles Pierce, Tony-winner Donna McKechnie, and a family of circus sway pole artists, among many others, and has a great story about the fabulous Jane Russell asking her for a ride to a dinner engagement. (She gave her one too, in her beat-up Datsun B-210). Her bravest early career moment was panning a world premiere musical directed by the famed Harold Prince. She and many other LA area critics were vindicated when it later closed on Broadway after only 6 days.
She once had an entire page of Letters to the Editor dedicated to hate mail written about her after she gave a negative review to the now-defunct California Music Theater’s production of “The Desert Song.” She has always considered it a backhanded compliment, and placed it alongside those people who threatened to stop taking the paper because of something she wrote at one point or another, and the director who told her she could never darken the door of his theater again (only to have that rescinded by the theater’s board). All of it seemed to say that theatrical criticism matters – a point of debate in some theatrical circles.
In the spring of 2011 she was a featured panelist for the L.A. Stage Alliance discussion of “Arts Criticism: How Does it Serve Los Angeles?” In the summers of 2014 and 2015 she joined the conversation as one member of the Southern California Bitter Lemons Critics Panel, part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. As a matter of whimsy, in August of 2014 she acted as a judge for the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater’s “Candlelight’s Got Talent” competition – a position she repeated in both 2015 and 2016.
In the fall of 2016, Frances Baum Nicholson was invited into the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle.
When not in the theater, Frances Nicholson taught for over 39 years, 35 of them at Pasadena’s Blair High School, especially as part of their International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. (She retired in June of 2019) While there she advised the Associated Student Body Council and helped found their successful Gay Straight Alliance.
Under the name F.M. Nicholson she is the author of two published collections of poetry. Her poems have also appeared in a number of literary journals, and she has given several local readings of her work (most at fundraisers for arts organizations). Frances recently moved from her home town of Pasadena to Louisville, Kentucky (her wife’s home town) where she now lives with her wife, poet Cynthia Rausch Allar, and a rather standoffish cat named Hermoine.