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'Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark' finally meets its critics -- and the results aren't pretty

February 8, 2011 |  5:10 am

Spider The first full-fledged reviews of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" are in, and the results aren't pretty. To give you a sense of the general critical reaction, here's a list of some of the words that reviewers are using to describe the much-delayed, $65 million Broadway production: "incoherent," "a mess," "endless," "a turkey," "sheer ineptitude" and "contender for worst musical ever."

Of course, "Spider-Man" hasn't opened officially yet -- it's still in preview performances until the big unveiling scheduled for March 15, which may or may not be pushed back for what would be the sixth time. But the feeling among theater critics (and their editors) was that the musical's creators have had enough time to tinker with the show since performances began in late November. Adding to that is that the show's producers have been charging non-preview prices for tickets when the general practice is to charge less before the official opening night.

Directed by Julie Taymor and featuring a score by Bono and The Edge, "Spider-Man" has no shortage of premium talent. The book, written by Taymor and Glen Berger, is based on the Marvel Comics superhero but also adds some new characters, notably Arachne, a witchy enemy. The show's many technical problems -- which have caused a few high-profile injuries among the cast -- have become a target for derision among late-night comics, bloggers and even the cover of New Yorker magazine.

Despite all of the negative buzz, "Spider-Man" appears to be doing great at the box office, playing consistently to capacity or near-capacity crowds. It will need to keep up the momentum if producers want to see a return on their investment. By at least one calculation, "Spider-Man" will have to play to sold-out houses for six years just to break even.

The critical reaction certainly isn't going to help sell tickets. Here's a sampling of reviews from the major theater critics...

Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times described the musical as "a teetering colossus that can’t find its bearings as a circus spectacle or as a rock musical," adding that "the battle over healthcare reform has a better shot at being resolved before the manifold problems of this frenetic Broadway jumble get fixed." He noted that while the aerial stunts were sometimes impressive, the musical's lack of narrative coherence was ultimately the killer -- "Nothing cures the curiosity about 'Spider-Man' quite like seeing it."

Ben Brantley of the New York Times wrote that "the sheer ineptitude of this show, inspired by the Spider-Man comic books, loses its shock value early. After 15 or 20 minutes, the central question you keep asking yourself is likely to change from 'How can $65 million look so cheap?' to 'How long before I’m out of here?'" The reviewer said a technical glitch during Saturday's show gave the audience some genuine pleasure.

Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune wrote that the show's narrative was incoherent and its music a disappointment. He added that that the musical puts too much focus on the Arachne character -- a creature from ancient mythology, not the Marvel universe. "There is a fundamental discomfort, and thus disconnect, between the material, the artists engaged in its interpretation and the form of the Broadway musical," he concluded.

The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney called the musical "an ungainly mess of a show that smacks of out-of-control auteurial arrogance," adding that "the big shock when sitting down finally to assess this $65 million web-slinging folly, is what a monumental anti-climax it turns out to be."

Variety's Steven Suskin wrote that the show's problems lie primarily with its book, music and lyrics -- "a kiss of death for most musicals." He described the story as "sketchy and ill-formed" and the score as "an endless and repetitive soundtrack." The critic noted that at the preview peformance he attended, the show was halted because of a technical glitch during an aerial sequence 42 mintues into the performance.

One of the less scathing reviews came from New York magazine, whose reviewer, Scott Brown, described the show as "thrilling" and "never, ever boring" despite its many flaws. "As maximalist camp, it succeeds thunderously," he wrote. "I recommend Spider-man never open. I think it should be built and rebuilt and overbuilt forever, a living monument to itself."


'Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark -- the media battle revs upSpiderman_2

'Spider-Man' delays its opening one more time

Broadway's 'Spider-Man' finds replacement for injured actress who left show

'Spider-Man' musical claims another victim

Julie Taymor's visions manifest in 'Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark'


-- David Ng

Photo: A scene from "Spider-Man" on Broadway. Credit: Jacob Cohl / 8 Legged Production


Comments () | Archives (7)

Dear Friends,

My husband and I went to the Spiderman Play Saturday afternoon in New York. There was a small glitch and a delay but the actors that were on stage at the time gave us some in prompt to entertainment while the problem was being fixed. We LOVED it!!! It added to the whole experience.
Things go wrong to the best laid plans. Give em a break! If anyone hasn’t seen it yet, don’t wait. It’s an experience we will never forget!

Warm regards, Lorna /Midland MI

OK....so the critics are undecided...

i think it's allready enough of spiderman for few ceturies.

This is what happens when the hubris of mega rich rock stars meets reality.

Lorna-probably havent seen much Broafway, huh? First act had some redeeming qualities because it was based on the spiderman origin story and the green goblin
Second act was terrible-Arachne was a major mistake-the worst scene involved women with fake spider legs dancing, singing and stealing shoes-horrific

I am sorry, Lorna, but I have to disagree. They are charging people a minimum of $75 and the ticket maximum is more than twice as much. For that, the show should be in working order. If I were to attend a show that had been running (previews or no previews) for 2+ MONTHS and they had to stop it even once for "problems" I would be incensed and do anything I could to get my money back. I attend Broadway shows often and have been at some that had "problems." I saw "Les Miserables" early in it's original run and it had to be stopped because someone pulled the fire alarm. I saw "The Lion King" in London and it started 20 minutes late because of a staging issue. I understand that this happens and I enjoyed both. But to have glitches as a regular occurrence and to have the nerve to ask people to pay full price to tickets night after night is robbery. The producers of this show are criminals as far as I am concerned.

Lorna: The character's name is Spider-Man, and the word you're looking for is "impromptu."


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