Why wait to review a show when hundreds of thousands of audience members have seen it before you?
It appears that theatre critics of some of the major New York and US press are losing their patience with Julie Taymor and Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark.
The show has been delayed countless times since its original opening date of 21 December 2010. Producers recently announced that the new opening night would be set for 15 March 2011, to allow more fine-tuning of the complicated technical aspects of the show, notably the flying sequences, which have caused a number of high-profile injuries during rehearsals and previews.
Julie Taylor, director of The Lion King, has justified the repeated delays by arguing that the extended previews are in lieu of the usual pre-Broadway, out-of-town try-out for big New York musicals.
But New York critics are becoming increasingly angry about not being allowed to review the show, exacerbated by Spider-Man pulling in large audiences at the Foxwoods Theatre, beating Wicked at the box-office and often drawing over $1.5 million a week.
The New York Drama Critics’ Circle, which represents critics at papers such as the New York Post, The New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal and Newsday, met earlier this week and Spider-Man was on the agenda. President of the organisation, Adam Feldman, wrote on his TimeOut New York blog that, “the discussion was spirited but that we did not resolve to stick to any specific course of action as a group on the question of when to review the show, whose preview period has been extended multiple times.”
That said, critics at major New York and US papers are apparently preparing to review the show ahead of the official opening night, despite protests from the show’s producers. Also a number of New York critics have already filed reviews based on preview performances, something which is frowned upon by producers on both sides of the Atlantic. Jeremy Gerard from Bloomberg News and Linda Winer from Newsday have both broken ranks with other critics and written reviews.
Critics are right in feeling frustrated. The gentleman’s agreement between critics and producers to wait until the official opening night before filing a review should work both ways. Continually preventing the press from expressing an opinion on a major show, whilst audiences swell in, makes a mockery of their profession.
In an age of blogging, when amateur critics feel no compunction to honour these kinds of agreements and happily post reviews during previews, producers should respect the work of professional theatre critics.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, who encountered vocal bloggers during previews of his new Adelphi show Love Never Dies, must be watching Spider-Man events with interest. Lloyd-Webber was particularly perturbed by the bloggers, but must be wishing that he, too, had risked lengthening the preview period to iron out some of its creases.
Since posting this, Mark Shenton of the Stage and Charles Spencer of the Telegraph have both filed reviews of the show. And they are not good. Both have lost patience and personally bought tickets to review the show. Would they have done this if it was in London? Hard to say, and would be interesting to know.