Although the official opening isn’t until March, figuring the troubled Spider-Man musical has had enough time to get things right by any reasonable standard (but not by Julie Taymor’s) theater critics are flouting tradition by releasing reviews of the show during previews. And they are administering the kind of beating that Spider-Man would normally expect only from Venom.
Over at the New York Times, Ben Brantley was displeased with the show and found it best when there was a technical glitch which caused The Green Goblin (played by Patrick Page) to sit at a piano and vamp for time whilst singing jolly songs — apparently this is a regular occurrence during malfunctions. :
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. So keep the fear factor an active part of the show, guys, and stock the Foxwoods gift shops with souvenir crash helmets and T-shirts that say “I saw ‘Spider-Man’ and lived.” Otherwise, a more appropriate slogan would be “I saw ‘Spider-Man’ and slept.”
The LA Times’ Charles McNulty found fault with story elements
But the time has come to assess the work, not the hullabaloo surrounding it. So much emphasis has been placed on the technological hurdles, the notion that “Spider-Man” is trying things that have never been attempted before in a Broadway house. What sinks the show, however, 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.
At New York Magazine, Scott Brown saw the same performance and delivers a brilliantly written review that approves of the same things that Brantley despaired of:
But never, ever boring. The 2-D comic art doesn’t really go with Taymor’s foamy, tactile puppetry, just as U2’s textural atmo-rock score doesn’t really go with the episodic Act One storytelling. Yet even in the depths of Spider-man’s certifiably insane second act, I was riveted. Riveted, yes, by what was visible onstage: the inverted Fritz Lang cityscapes, the rag doll fly-assisted choreography, the acid-Skittle color scheme and Ditko-era comic-art backdrops. But often I was equally transfixed by the palpable offstage imagination willing it all into existence. See, Spider-man isn’t really about Spider-man. It’s about an artist locked in a death grapple with her subject, a tumultuous relationship between a talented, tormented older woman and a callow young stud. Strip out the $70 million in robotic guywires, Vari-lites, and latex mummery, and you’re basically looking at a Tennessee Williams play.
The New York Times piece includes a slideshow and many never-before-seen pictures of the production.
Despite all the bad press, the show is making about $1.3 million a week, meaning it will break even sometime after DIABLO 3 comes out.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.