Broadway: Spider-Man Reviews Round-up

The critics have cracked. And it’s “prognosis negative”!

Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark
Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark

After reporting earlier this week that New York critics were starting to get jumpy about being kept away from Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark at the Foxwoods Theatre in New York, despite the fact that thousands of people have already seen the show, Monday saw the gloves finally come off.

The endlessly postponed official first night, which was to finally be Monday 7 February, was postponed again. This proved too much for critics, including the all-powerful Ben Brantley of the New York Times, and UK critics who had booked their flights and were not going to rebook for anyone!

$65 million dollars is a lot to spend on a musical, and it’s safe to say that the show is nothing less than a phenomenon in the US, but not necessarily for all the right reasons.

The critics who have filed reviews so far did not hold back, with all of the majors we highlight below damning the show in pretty much every regard.

Whether their opinions will mean much to a show that is doing great weekly business at the box-office is hard to say, although much of the hype is built on the injuries and problems that have plagued the show rather than any kind of artistic or entertainment merit.

Book tickets to Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark at the Foxwoods Theatre in New York.

Average rating score for this production:
AVERAGE STAR RATING

REVIEWS ROUND-UP

“Calamity struck, and it was a real-life (albeit small) calamity — not some tedious, confusing tripe involving a pretty girl dangling from a skyscraper and supervillains laying siege to Manhattan. And not the more general and seriously depressing disaster that was the sum of the mismatched parts that had been assembled onstage.”
“This production should play up regularly and resonantly the promise that things could go wrong. Because only when things go wrong in this production does it feel remotely right — if, by right, one means entertaining.”
“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?””
“Directed by Julie Taymor, who wrote the show’s book with Glen Berger, and featuring songs by U2’s Bono and the Edge, “Spider-Man” is not only the most expensive musical ever to hit Broadway; it may also rank among the worst.”
“... from what I saw on Saturday night, “Spider-Man” is so grievously broken in every respect that it is beyond repair.”
“Anyway, there are lots of flat, cardboardish sets, which could easily be recycled for high school productions of “Grease” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” and giant multipanel video projections (by Kyle Cooper).”
“The songs by Bono and the Edge are rarely allowed to take full, attention-capturing form. Mostly they blur into a sustained electronic twang of varying volume, increasing and decreasing in intensity, like a persistent headache. A loud ballad of existential angst has been written for Peter, who rasps dejectedly, “I’d be myself if I knew who I’d become.” That might well be the official theme song of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”” - New York Times
“... the show, as it currently stands, is a thundering, over-hyped, undercooked disappointment.”
“From my balcony perch, much of the flying below and under me was invisible, while from the stalls, it would frequently be above and behind you. Expect business for osteopaths to soar not just among the cast but also audiences as they twist to follow it.”
“But if the technical problems may yet be ironed out, Bono and the Edge’s debut as Broadway composers also turns out to be an uninspiring disappointment”
“It is difficult, too, for the actors to give much human dimension to the cartoon characterisations they have been given, although Jennifer Damiano as MJ (Peter Parker’s love interest) and British actor Matthew James Thomas (the alternate whom I saw in the title role instead of the billed Reeve Carney) bring some heart, warmth and vulnerability to a show that otherwise fatally fails to have any.” - The Stage
“Never mind turning off the dark. I spent much of this dreadful new musical muttering Please, Lord, make it stop.”
“Technical hitches aside, there is no time to make major improvements now, and the musical strikes me as being beyond salvation.”
“... the production often seems both baffling and pretentious. We are a long way here from the guilty pleasures of the Marvel comic-books and the terrific Spider-Man movies.”
“There's a leaden lack of humour about most of the script, and though the flying sequences are exciting when they work (and even more fun when they don't) there is nothing here to match the thrills, skills and sheer imagination of Cirque du Soleil at its best.”
“... the biggest bummer of all is the score, written by Bono and The Edge from U2, and containing not a single memorable song in the course of the show's punishing two-and-three-quarter hours.”
“The designs are impressive, conjuring up a dystopian vision of New York, and the cast perform as if they really believe in the dire material they are lumbered with. Reeve Carney has a winning charm and moments of real anguish as Peter Parker, the reluctant super-hero.” - Daily Telegraph
“If you're going to spend $65 million and not end up with the best musical of all time, I suppose there's a perverse distinction in being one of the worst.”
“... director Julie Taymor, of "The Lion King" fame, left a few essential items off her lavish shopping list: 1. Coherent plot; 2. Tolerable music; 3. Workable sets.”
“Story-wise, "Spider-Man" is a shrill, insipid mess, a musical aimed squarely at a Cub Scout demographic. Looking at the sad results, you're compelled to wonder: Where did all those tens of millions go?”
“The tale doesn't so much unfold as ooze out, on the operating theory that if you throw everything against a theater wall, something might stick.”
“Page and the other principal actors, burdened by Taymor and Glen Berger's lumbering book, never stand a chance.”
“The score, by Bono and the U2 guitarist the Edge, is an ineffectual bystander. It's loud and pulsing and devoid of personality. I've rarely experienced a production in which the music is so completely drowned out by the sets.” - The Washington Post
“Well, it turns out there is a valid reason the producers of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” have been keeping critics at bay. Julie Taymor's $65-million, accident-prone production, featuring an erratic score by U2’s Bono and The Edge, is a teetering colossus that can’t find its bearings as a circus spectacle or as a rock musical.”
“What sinks the show... has nothing to do with glitches in the special effects. To revise a handy little political catch phrase, “It’s the storytelling, stupid.” And on that front, the failure rests squarely on Taymor’s run-amok direction.”
“Taymor’s inventive staging of “The Lion King” was a victory for the craft and commerce of theater alike. But the investors of “Spider-Man” have inadvertently bankrolled an artistic form of megalomania.”
“The biggest shame in all of this is that the leads — Reeve Carney, who plays Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and Jennifer Damiano, who plays Peter’s love interest, Mary Jane — are utterly captivating. Their appealing sensitivity, however, is no match for the machine they’re trapped in.”
“The music is hit or miss, with three screechers for every rousing cri de coeur rock ballad. But the show is most alive when the sound that Bono and The Edge made famous connects to the emotional predicament of Peter Parker”
“Who exactly is “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” for anyway? The only answer I can come up with is an audience of Julie Taymor types who care only about panoramic sensibility— a bit of slow-mo choreography here, a smattering of diabolical mask work there.”
“... the show’s long-term prospects seem to me nearly as grim as the fate of Bette Davis' character in another work with 'dark' in the title — “Dark Victory.” Not since that 1939 weeper have the words "prognosis negative" seemed so apt.” - Los Angeles Times

Date: 9 February 2011
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