Cash boost as Spidey fights the critics
Published 13/02/2011 | 05:00
The musical SpiderMan: Turn off the Dark is hanging on to its reputation as Broadway's hottest ticket by a thread this weekend, as producers deal with a blistering round of bad reviews while trying to fix ongoing technical snafus that threaten to make the most expensive production ever staged on the Great White Way a sensation for all the wrong reasons.
Last Thursday night, the actors playing Spider-man and the Green Goblin became entangled mid-air during a fight scene, when they were supposed to be zipping through the air high above the crowd. Instead, the hamstrung twosome were forced to hang for several minutes, cracking jokes with the audience before being rescued and allowing the action to resume.
The subsequent rash of tweets from attendees, gleefully retelling how they were witness to such an unscripted spectacle is, according to many observers, indicative of why ticket sales to the show are moving so briskly. Last week, the show was Broadway's highest-grossing production, bringing in $1,297,283 (€957,524) at the box office.
"It's got a certain curiosity or Jackass quality," says Michael Riedel, the New York Post's Theatre gossip columnist. "People standing around with their cellphone cameras hoping to catch something going wrong. And the producers have used that publicity to pump up ticket sales."
Thursday's glitch was minor compared to December's 35-foot fall by an actor (who suffered a skull fracture and cracked vertebrae) or the concussion blamed for the exit of a lead actress, but it came just days after a remarkable revolt by US theatre critics who surprised everyone by breaking the protocol of waiting to post their reviews until after opening night.
Like other publications, The Hollywood Reporter explained the reasoning behind its embargo-breaking decision. "Official opening is not until March 15, but following repeat postponements and what feels like 30 years of previews, The Hollywood Reporter is observing the previously scheduled opening of February 7 with this review."
The HR was exaggerating. Slightly. Spider-Man which started previews on November 28 was originally supposed to open on December 21. That date was pushed back to January 11, and then to February 7. Ten days ago, the producers announced a new opening date, March 15, giving SpiderMan a record 100 preview per
formances, at top-dollar prices without the bother of critical analysis that so often fuels purchase power.
The critics, once unleashed, didn't waste a keystroke in delivering their verdict. "The sheer ineptitude of this show, inspired by the Spider-Man comic books, loses its shock value early," wrote Ben Brantley of the New York Times. "After 15 or 20 minutes, the central question you keep asking yourself is likely to change from 'How can $65m (€47.9m) look so cheap?' to 'How long before I'm out of here?'"
The Washington Post relayed how disappointed they were to discover (after "170 spirit-snuffing minutes") that director Julie Taymor "left a few items off her lavish shopping list: 1: Coherent plot. 2: Tolerable music. 3: Workable sets", while the LA Times simply called the show "a teetering colossus that can't find its bearings as a circus spectacle or as a rock musical".
Bono and The Edge got off relatively lightly for the score they created, with the NY Daily News opining "As if written in invisible ink, tunes are there and then slip from your mind," and the NYT noting how the music blurs "into a sustained electronic twang of varying volume, increasing and decreasing in intensity, like a persistent headache".
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the production issued a statement complaining about the vitriolic reviews. "This pile-on by the critics is a huge disappointment. Changes are still being made and any review that runs before the show is frozen is invalid."
Reidel, who touts shows like Wicked, Cats and Phantom of the Opera as proof that Broadway is critic-proof, doesn't hold out much hope for the future of Spider-Man. Like others, Reidel has crunched the numbers which suggest producers would have to fill the 1,930-capacity Foxwood Theatre for every performance over the next four years to earn back their initial $65m investment. Unlike others, he is also reporting an additional $1.2m (€885,720) outlay each week in overheads
"Depending on how much more money its backers are willing to lose, my hunch is that Spider-Man will stagger through the spring, pick up with the tourist traffic in the summer and then collapse in the fall," he wrote last Thursday, mischievously adding: "Of course, all bets are off if another actor -- or an audience member -- gets hurt. And if somebody gets killed, Spider-Man could run longer than Cats.