Robot 6

Big-budget Spider-Man musical turns off the critics

Patrick Page as the Green Goblin and Reeve Carney as Spider-Man (The New York Times)

After five delays and nearly 70 preview performances, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark received its first wave of “official” reviews overnight from the nation’s top theater critics — many of whom went to great pains to point out that the $65-million musical was supposed to open on Monday, at least before the most recent postponement.

The results are perhaps predictable, if certainly not flattering. Words like “incoherent,” “cheap” and “atrocious” are used, much to the production’s dismay. (Comic Book Resources reviewed Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark last month, with Staff Writer Josh Wigler describing it as “awful.”)

“The PILE-ON by the critics was ridiculous and uncalled for,” show spokesman Rick Miramontez said in a statement to Entertainment Weekly. “Their actions are unprecedented and UNCOOL!”

“Unprecedented” likely refers to the publishing of reviews before the show’s official opening on March 15, a baton Showbiz411’s Roger Friedman — a longtime friend and frequent defender of director Julie Taymor — picked up when he described the move as an “ambush” in a post titled “Spider-Man Musical: Told Not To, the Critics Review it Anyway.” That’s the same Roger Friedman who, in 2009, downloaded and reviewed a copy of a stolen unfinished print of X-Men Origins: Wolverine weeks before the movie’s opening.

Here’s a roundup of some of the early reviews that reportedly left Spider-Man producer Norton Herrick “gobsmacked”:

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: “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.”

Peter Marks, The Washington Post: “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.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: “A snowballing budget, broken bones, a concussion, multiple delays, rewrites … and what do we get? An inconsistent, maddening show that’s equal parts exciting and atrocious.”

Scott Brown, New York magazine: “It’s by turns hyperstimulated, vivid, lurid, overeducated, underbaked, terrifying, confusing, distracted, ridiculously slick, shockingly clumsy, unmistakably monomaniacal and clinically bipolar.”

Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: “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.”

Jason Zinoman, “Imagine the gall it takes to have Spider-Man wrestle a cheap-looking blow-up doll in the most expensive musical in history. Or to have an almost incoherent book so witless that what passes for a joke is a character misunderstanding the difference between ‘free will’ and Free Willy. Then there’s the Bono-and-the-Edge anthem about shoes, and the more mundane issues such as inconsistencies of character (Peter Parker transforms from a nerd to a brooding hipster faster than he does from a man to a spider), of period (His Girl Friday or The Social Network?), and of style (comic books or Greek myth?).”

Steven Suskin, Variety: “Weaknesses lie with the book, music and lyrics, a kiss of death for most musicals; Taymor and her producers seem to think this a minor flaw, and initial box office returns suggest they might be right.”

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: “… [M]ostly, Spider-Man is chaotic, dull and a little silly. And there’s nothing here half as catchy as the 1967 ABC cartoon theme tune.”

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: “Time and again, the show runs away from what I suspect the creators feared would be too predictable or cheap, but that we miss. There is no direct Peter-to-Spidey transformation scene. There are no shooting webs (not substantively, anyway). There is no rush of romance. There is no truth. Every time old Spidey gets someone to fight, beyond the eight-legged critter, the villain is immediately defanged by absurdly cartoonish behavior, nixing any of the stakes. His other main foes, The Lizard, Swarm et al., are reduced to a rushed and belated cinematic montage that looks more like a garish version of an outre presentation during Fashion Week. And yet, in other moments, the show is as terrified of its genre as a 1960s mother worried about the eyesight of kids devouring comics under the sheets.”



Too bad, but I plan to see it anyway. We were thinking of doing our own review.

Ouch! Well at least Glenn Beck liked it.

There’s a great bit in Scott Brown’s review explaining why Beck likes the show so much: “The short answer is: Because it is a kid’s show. (Which contains not one but two chalkboard scenes!) The longer answer: It’s a kid’s show with somebody’s cockeyed gender-studies thesis stapled to its back. The even-longer answer: Beck and Spider-man both exist in a state of perpetual adolescence; both are serious little Trapper Keeper scribblers, stream-of-consciousness free-associaters totally enamored of their own bad poetry. The key distinction: Taymor’s bad poetry is still pretty ravishing. (Though both kinda make you want to stock up on canned food and gold.)”

It is funny the need to bash a conservative about something that has nothing at all to do with politics. Funny, but not surprising.

I don’t love that the critics got tired of waiting. It isn’t really fair, given that if the show had stayed elsewhere for tryouts they would have ignored it.

That said, I don’t think reviews this negative would have been any better if they held off. At this point, little that anyone will do to a show in previews this long would change such a reaction.

Also, I have friends who saw it who are not critics and who are theater people as well as comic book readers. And they had the same reaction. As a play, it stinks. The spectacle might be worth the vast amounts of money being spent, but the music, the book, the lyrics, the sound all got roundly panned by my friends.

“It is funny the need to bash a conservative about something that has nothing at all to do with politics. Funny, but not surprising.”

Won’t SOMEBODY think of the wealthy?!

Won’t SOMEBODY think of the wealthy?!

Yes, because all the liberal pundits are SO poor. Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, millionaires like that are what I think of when talking about the “little guy.”

I say this as a (somewhat) liberal person: Even I have more respect for conservatives than to count Glenn Beck amongst their numbers. That dude’s just crazy.

Exactly. Glenn Beck is about as much a true conservative as George W. Bush was.

Also, I wonder if people still think these early reviews are “bad form.”

Theater snobs don’t like a play about Spider-Man, and liberals don’t like Glenn Beck…………………….. Shocking.

“Springtime for Goblin, and Spider-Man…”

Seriously… I’m not surprised a bit by these reviews or the fact that they were done during the “preview” run. It was starting to feel like the people behind the musical were abusing the preview period to milk it for as much money as possible without any critical feedback. It was only a matter of time before someone got fed up.

USA Today actually had a quite flattering article about the musical in today’s life section. Very complimentary about the set and music.

Not sure how people thought this would turn out well

@T.- there are probably liberal hypocrite millionaire pundits out there but Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert aren’t 2 of them. Colbert spends much of his time mocking the idea that he is one of the people that needs to be worried about and Jon Stewart will gladly say he is under taxed

So it’s a Nick Spencer comic book then.

As a Theatre Director and 20+ years comic book collector….I can tell you that this show is awful.

AND, to those of you who say it’s not fair that the reviewers didn’t wait any longer….it’s actually not fair to the public to be asked to pay full price for the longest preview period in Broadway history.

The creative team started previews WITHOUT a finale in place. That’s pure greed and completely disrespectful to the audience. They aren’t even TRYING to make it a “good” show and it doesn’t matter, It’s breaking box office records and will continue to because of all the press…..because there is no BAD press. All press is good press.

It’s a shame….

Sir Manley Johnson

February 8, 2011 at 3:37 pm

@ Alemander. I don’t think Kevin was putting Beck down for being a conservative. He doesn’t mention anything about politics or ideology. He seems to be putting Beck down for being hopelessly juvenile.

To echo what Supermarc said: most theatrical productions (unless they are meant to be improvised) have a full script in hand before rehearsals begin. Most theatre companies don’t have tens of millions of dollars at their disposal and don’t have time to waste. Most shows by professional theatre companies run two to six weeks. Previews generally run only the first two or three days of a run just to work out the kinks, since actors have a very different experience when there is an audience as when they are in dress rehearsal– not because the script won’t yet be done.

And yes: Preview tickets are generally not full price.

The producers of Spider-Man were extending and further extending previews because they knew they had a turkey on their hands and wanted to make as much money as possible before it got canned by the critics.

The only review that matters is the box office take.

Did these critics see the same show that an audience would see?

Did these critics have to see the show TO critique it?

Does EVERY Broadway show get a critical review?

Yes x3

Roger Friedman can sod off with the ‘ambush’ remark and Rick Miramontez has to say that he’s being paid to.

This thing should never have existed.

Hate to tell you guys this (and I’d hate for anyone from the production team or even Taymour herself to see this), but………I FREAKING TOLD YOU SO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This thing was doomed from the start, so maybe transitioning Spidey to Broadway was a terrible idea.
They should have put the dog to sleep before it went mad, to put it figuratively.
THIS is why people are saying Hollywood (and maybe the entertainment industry itself) is running out of (or already has run out of) ideas.
Sure, I’ll see it myself, just to see what all the fuss is about, and I can probably guarantee that I won’t like it by the end of the show.
Again, I TOLD YOU SO, and this (start the thing at 5:03 and stop at 5:08):

I’ve read Spider-man off and on and for the past few years everytime I hear about Spider-man, i get depressed. Anyone whose read it knows what I’m talking about. I was shocked about the horrible stuff they put in the books, which can’t be undone. I was depressed at the quickie movie reboot that will be a disaster. Now, I’m depressed about this horrible thing. I want the old Spider-man b ack in the books. Not Heroic Age Brand New One More Day magic amnesica idiot boy!

This play is bizarre, but so is the book.

@Acer You aren’t the only one who knew that and really THIS is why people are saying Hollywood is running out of ideas? I could have sworn it was the endless remakes and reboots.

“Ouch! Well at least Glenn Beck liked it.”

What more evidence does one need that the show is awful?

Glenn speaks truth to people. He is the only honest journalist in a den of liars that make up the current mainstream media. If he liked it then I can really believe that Spider-Man will be something wonderful. These idiot pundit reviewers are full of it, they probably came into it waiting to trash it because of its comics and superhero origins. They never gave the show a chance and probably wrote the review before they watched it.

From the cast of spidey villains, this looks really interesting with their inclusion of the Swarm. I’m betting the director and this show will prove all these critics WRONG and prove GLENN and MARVEl RIGHt.


February 8, 2011 at 7:11 pm

OMG Fanboys defending a silly looking play they haven’t seen AND GLENN BECK. This is like the perfect storm of stupidity.
And Glenn Beck isn’t conservative at all about about saying stupid things.

Ha, Terra Nova sounds like the ONLY reason he wants to like Spidey: The Musical is because Glenn Beck likes it, too. He’s like the bully’s loyal crony, except in this case, the bully is a retard, making the crony something else entirely…

Thanks, Terra.

I needed a good laugh today.

Glenn speaks truth to people.

Wow, I didn’t realize the dictionary people changed the meaning of the word “truth” to mean “paranoid psychotic delusions”…

Spider Man…The Musical….I mean really did anyone not think that would be generally panned?

My parents are conservatives and even they think Glenn Beck is an idiot. To say that a BS war that lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent people is a better thing than spending too much money to give people medical care is such a profound failure of morality that if that’s how you feel your soul must be a black piece of coal.

My little brother loves spiderman cartoons and even he’s confused as to why anyone would want to see a musical based on the character. Does spiderman actually sing in this thing? To read a comic book and think that making the characters sing would be an improvement is such a profound failure of artistic judgment that whoever came up with that idea must be truly evil.

Look at me, I’m being a pundit.

“Glenn speaks truth to people. He is the only honest journalist in a den of liars that make up the current mainstream med”HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

No, just…no. In ten years or so, people will wonder how in the world anyone took Glenn Beck seriously…much in the same way people wonder why Paris Hilton was ever “popular.”

This thing was a Turkey from day one. When the title of the play reminds you of an episode of Always Sunny in Philadelphia…that’s NOT good.

i saw it back in december it was bad basically its a musical without good music the above snippits of reviews were pretty spot on if you ask me

65 million and little to no webs? Really? This whole thing seemed pretentious from the start.

Is there any subject in the world that can’t devolve into a “liberals are stupid! – no conservatives are!” argument?

Who gives a crap what Glenn Beck thinks of this? Every time you mention his name in connection to “Turn Off the Dark,” you’re just feeding into his fame and fortune. Why do you think he even mentioned it? He wants to tie his name to anything that will raise his brand awareness. He doesn’t care about musical theatre or comics, or anything else. He just wants people talking about him, the same way Coca-Cola does.

If you can’t discuss a Broadway musical based on a comic book character without resorting to left/right bullsh*t and name calling, then what’s the point? I wish people would stop defining themselves so rigidly and leaping down the throats of people they think are their enemies.

Quit poisoning the conversation!

Grow up and stop feeding the trolls, online and off.

I’ve read Spider-man off and on and for the past few years everytime I hear about Spider-man, i get depressed. Anyone whose read it knows what I’m talking about. I was shocked about the horrible stuff they put in the books, which can’t be undone. I was depressed at the quickie movie reboot that will be a disaster. Now, I’m depressed about this horrible thing. I want the old Spider-man b ack in the books. Not Heroic Age Brand New One More Day magic amnesica idiot boy!

This play is bizarre, but so is the book.


@G Shakespeare i would agree with you statement about leftis & rightists… I suppose its compounded by trying to figure out if there leftist or stage leftists.

But seriously, i’ve got some friends studying in NYC & they went to see a preopening. As comic book fans they said that it was some of the worst tripe they had ever seen. The story was abysmal, the song about shoes was straight up silly, the geek chorus which was killed off half way through the play was dismissive of the fandom & the ending… didn’t. When the house lights came up at the end, everyone apparently stayed seated because they thought there was another act… there wasn’t.

Oh, i almost forgot: The shoehorning in of greek myth was hamfisted and unnecessary.

Other names for the show i’ve seen
Other names for this show (please join in)
Spider-man: Thunderdome
Spider-man: Pull the plug already
Spider-man: and the case of the missing 65 million
Spider-man: Poor idea, worse execution
Spider-man: Gets a boo boo
Spider-man: You won’t believe a man can fly
Spider-man: Dosen’t do what a spider can
Spider-man: Turn ON the dark before someone gets killed!

of course these are critics of theatre/musicals and the play is obviously not aimed at them or the usual musical crowd, it’d be interesting to read some reviews from people the musical is actually aimed at.

Its interesting to see so many fanboys falling back on the “of course critics didn’t like it, its not for them” excuse.

Broadway musicals target the same BROAD audiences that Super Hero Films do. So while their target audience is higher then the 80 thousand or so people who buy spider-man comics, its exactly the same as the millions who see his movies.

Broadway is not “high art.” While some of the reviews might sound a little snobby, they are the same people who loved Wicked, Avenue Q, and dozens of other Musicals made for wide audiences.

Its not the reviewers who have let you down fanboys, its Julie Taymor and Bono, and their highly immoral financiers have ruined spider-man. Not the critics, who mostly just want to save you the 200 bucks you’d have to drop to see the stinker.

And yes, I’ve seen it. I scored 5 free preview tickets and couldn’t get get rid of the 5th. I was literally walking around Time Square and people looked at me like i had just offered them a hard punch to the face.

Its a joke, a bad one, at the expense of an icon. But don’t get into that whole “me against the world” stance that geeks sometimes do. This is not a service to you. This is exactly what they want you to do. Don’t give them your money.

Anything that involves U2 after 1991 is going to be horrible

I actually heard Beck’s praise of the show and it boiled down to him thinking the show had a decidedly anti-science slant. I’m not kidding. The clips of his comments are at Media Matters. Hilarious.

“Spider-man: You won’t believe a man can fly”

Possibly my favourite.

And yes the extended previews while still charging regular price is simple gouging. They know they have a disaster and they just want to bilk as much money as they can from the rubberneckers and the curious. I’m glad the critics ignored the latest delay and reviewed it anyway.

I honestly don’t think the bad reviews will hurt it (that much). Those who want to see it will see it.

I’d be curious to know how many of those dumb critics actually saw the show?!
It was the most fun I’ve had in years at a show and the best Broadway production by far!
Exciting, shocking, musical (awesome U2 music), and seat edge dancing.
Can’t wait to see it again!!!

Spider Man: Turn On the Lights and Someone Call 911!!!

It all sounds fascinating. I staged a ham-strung budget play based on a graphic no el project once,
and can relate to some of the difficulties this shoe is having.

But even I was fully willing to cut half the songs & scenes which straight up didn’t work, in the service of presenting what people would be paying to see: a cohesive , hopefully inspiring narrative.

And I’m not saying I exactly succeeded. But we had nearly full houses for our 3 day run.
It just seems to me that Julie Taymoore should be beyond my very amateur stumbling points, if she
hopes to ever be written a check again for her craft- blank or not.

It seems like to save this show, they should have a 9 yr old girl & a 9 yr old boy watch it, ask them which parts made sense. Cut out the rest (Free Willy? Even they won’t get that.) and then they’ll at least have a Book worthy of re-staging elsewhere. Cirque de Soleil gets away w/ narrative murder bc they’re a freak show of athleticism & discipline.
This play needs to just get off it’s high horse and appeal to the Spider Man audience it bought a license for: 9 yr olds (including the kid inside every adult) and Glenn Beck, apparently (which I think will be taken care of by appealing to 9 yr old minds.)
Lifelong comic fan, but let’s be honest: Spider Man = A Pajamas cash cow phenomenon.
Julie Taymoore= Perpetual private school Theatre Design Nutcase.
The Edge= Professional 16 yr old discovering effects pedals.
Bono- always there to save the Edge.

Again, this sounds like a college theatre dept’s dream project.
I suppose if it’s baited Glenn Beck into admitting he loves comics, then this whole debacle could somehow turn out well for comics aimed at a functionally illiterate public.

And before you ask, I’ll never tire of Beck Bashing. You should thank me for validating his cause.
Then we’d think there’s at least a modicum of abstract reasoning behind his madness. :)

“I actually heard Beck’s praise of the show and it boiled down to him thinking the show had a decidedly anti-science slant. I’m not kidding.”

Even though Peter Parker is a science whiz.

Wow… Beck strikes again with his powers of intellect. He does realize that without science, he couldn’t be on television. Doesn’t he?

I feel guilty for opening the Glenn Beck can of worms.

I haven’t seen the play so I really can’t comment on it. I do agree that a lot of critics went into this show with low expectations, but when opening night is delayed 4 times, somethings wrong.

One of the things the reviews have in common are that the stunts are good but the story’s nonsensical.

The story is what matters. I fully agree that the long preview period is nothing but the show trying to circumvent criticism via a loophole, but the critical consequences would certainly be the same regardless of how long they waited.

The story is the backbone. That any of the music was written before the story was in place is, in my opinion, shameful. Same goes for the effects preparation, the casting, etc. This is far too similar to what happens in 90% of the cases where Hollywood takes on a franchise – the story is secondary to simply getting it out the door and making money, which is why we have so many turkeys like Jonah Hex, the Phantom, Fantastic Four, etc. I find it all but impossible to remember the last act of almost any superhero movie, because it’s tacked on. The fact that Turn Off The Dark’s ending isn’t done means that it’s guilty of this same problem, and that is something that everyone involved with the project should be ashamed of.

A good story leads to its ending. It has nothing to do with trying to please critics. Die Hard isn’t a movie designed for the critics. Neither is Galaxy Quest. But they, along with a good chunk of the critically films and plays that are made, are vigilant about making sure that everything – EVERYTHING – in the story directs focus to and brings emotional energy to the climax. Not knowing how a story ends and finalizing what goes before it? They might as well be adapting a middle schooler’s serialized Spider-Man fan fiction.

“I haven’t seen the play so I really can’t comment on it.”

Stick with that.

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