Simon Says: No More Moore

Everybody complains about how nasty New York theater critics are, but what about the playwrights themselves? Last week Neil Simon decided he didn't like the performance of the star in his new off-Broadway play, "Rose's Dilemma," so he sent her a letter telling her off. "Learn your lines," he wrote, according to one published account, "or get out of my play." Never mind that the recipient of these encouraging words was one of America's longest-running sweethearts, Mary Tyler Moore. When Moore read the letter--delivered by Simon's wife only a few minutes before the Wednesday matinee--she stormed out the stage door and hasn't been seen since. Maybe she went in search of comfort from Mr. Grant.

The merits of all this are, predictably, in dispute. Simon's camp says that Moore, 66, truly hadn't learned her lines, and that he'd already rewritten an entire scene in the form of a letter so that she could simply read it. (Moore was, in fact, wearing an earpiece so that she could have lines fed to her.) Moore's people say that the play was a work in progress and that Simon, 76, was unnecessarily harsh, considering the show is in previews. (Simon does have a habit of re-writing up to the last minute, and of standing in the back of the theater obsessing over every laugh.) The show, as shows always do--at least until those critics weigh in--will go on, with Moore's understudy, Patricia Hodges, as Rose. Now the real dilemma for "Rose's Dilemma" is whether anyone will come to see a Mary Tyler Moore play without Mary.

Q&A: Alicia Keys

Her 2001 debut album, "Songs in A Minor," was a runaway hit and a Grammy winner. Last week she released a follow-up CD, "The Diary of Alicia Keys," which, she tells NEWSWEEK's Allison Samuels, is better.

What did you learn from being an overnight star?

I learned how to protect my voice. There was a while there where I was doing a hundred interviews in a day, and then when it came time to perform, my voice wasn't there. I had to realize that only I could tell the people around me when enough was enough.

The new record features a piano tribute to Donny Hathaway. Why him?

It's just so cool to think about Donny because although he didn't have the career that Stevie Wonder had, he still has been as influential. It's a great lesson for us younger stars to learn--you don't have to be a superstar to make your mark.

Do you find it hard to relate to what's going on currently in music?

I really see myself as being here before, you know? My taste, my musical style--it's all so old school, so '60s and '70s, that I just have to believe I've had this experience before. I know it sounds weird, but when I sit down to compose and play, it's always an old-school flava that comes through, whether I'm going for that or not. It's spooky.

The industry today seems more about how you look than about music. Do you feel that pressure?

People are into looks; that's just the way it is, but I don't have to play into it. I'm not about showcasing myself like that. I'm not wearing booty shorts, or low-cut blouses or see-through dresses for anybody, no matter who asks me. In fact, no one asks me, because they know. The music is all I'm selling.

Don't you have to play the game sometimes, though--the see-and-be-seen kind of thing?

I step back from all of that. I like to have mystery. Keep people guessing about you and what you're doing. I see some of my peers and how they are always in the news, out at parties, and I go to myself, "Please, just go somewhere and sit down. Let us miss you."