‘Spider-Man’ redux: What did the critics (and Bill Clinton) think?

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Feeling a sense of theatrical déjà vu? The critics were back this week to judge Broadway’s ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,’ which has finally opened at the Foxwoods Theatre in New York after 183 preview performances, several missed openings and a nonstop barrage of negative press.

This is the second time that critics have visited the troubled musical. In February, reviewers weighed in while the show was still in previews, offering nearly universal condemnation of the narrative’s incoherent structure.

Shortly thereafter, Julie Taymor was kicked out of the director’s chair and a new creative team was brought in to overhaul her production.The show went on hiatus for a few weeks to implement the changes before resuming preview performances in May.

The revised musical features a streamlined plot and a reworked rock score by U2’s Bono and the Edge. Whole sections of Taymor’s original vision -- including a chorus of ‘geek’ narrators -- have been eliminated.


On Tuesday, the opening night crowd included Taymor, who joined the cast and crew on-stage for the curtain call.

Also among the A-list roster of attendees was President Clinton, a friend of Bono. In a statement sent Wednesday, Clinton praised the musical: ‘What an amazing and historic night on Broadway. New York has never seen anything like ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.’ And I am very proud of them for not giving up, it was fabulous.’

How did critics -- who are not friends of Bono -- respond to the overhauled production? The response has been considerably less glowing than Clinton’s, but nowhere near the universal loathing the first time around.

Ben Brantley of the New York Times wrote that ‘this singing comic book is no longer the ungodly, indecipherable mess it was in February. It’s just a bore.’ The production has kept ‘the most spectacular-looking centerpieces from the Taymor version,’ but these ‘seem out of proportion to what has become a straightforward children’s entertainment with a mildly suspenseful story.’ The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones called the revised show ‘a remarkable achievement,’ considering the limited amount of time the new team had to implement changes. But the score by Bono and the Edge remains ‘unsatisfying,’ its limitations seemingly ‘more glaring now that the rest of the show has been retooled.’

Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post wrote that the musical ‘tries very hard to be fun and accessible’ but in the end, ‘the overall effect is more competent than awe-inspiring, more Six Flags than magic.’ The new creative team has streamlined the plot, which now ‘follows a straight line from point A to point B. At least we can tell what’s going on.’

New York Magazine’s Scott Brown described the new show as an ‘embarrassing dud’ and ‘colloidal mush,’ noting that the revisions have made it abundantly clear how ‘little was there in the first place.’ The music by Bono and the Edge ‘is, by far, the show’s greatest weakness. (Which is saying something.)’

David Cote of Time Out New York wrote that the revised musical ‘is a hell of a lot better’ than Taymor’s version, adding that the show has become ‘a coherent and mostly enjoyable entertainment for children and adults.’ Still, the new plot features its own holes and the score features too many ‘generic rockers with sloppy, vague lyrics.’


Broadway’s ‘Spider-Man’ sets new opening date for June 14

‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark’ -- the media battle revs up

Theater review: ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark’

-- David Ng