Oh, Bono. How could you have made such a mistake? Spider-Man does what a spider can, not what Kristin Chenowith can.
For those of you who don’t obsessively dissect the New York Times’ Arts section every day or so, a little context: Last Sunday marked the first preview performance of Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” a $65 million tour de force backed and scored by Bono and the Edge of U2.
The most expensive show in the history of Broadway, it has been in production for almost a decade, and financial and technical problems have plagued it for months. However, with the opening Sunday, audiences and critics alike eagerly gathered to see what U2 hath wrought.
The verdict? Remember that scene in the original “Spider-Man” film when Tobey Maguire tries web-slinging for the first time? When he swings right into a brick wall?
Yeah, it was sort of like that.
The New York Times article on the preview stayed pretty neutral, but it couldn’t deny the facts. The show stopped no less than five times due to technical problems that literally left the actors hanging, one of which ended Act I prematurely. The show lasted three hours and 15 minutes. There were slow claps.
To be fair, most Broadway shows aren’t judged based on their previews, and “Turn Off the Dark” has until Jan. 11 to fix these problems. So I won’t judge the show itself. I’ll just judge the idea behind it.
There are a lot of things about “Turn Off the Dark” that could appeal to a mass audience. It’s got songs written by U2. It’s got a charismatic superhero for a leading man. There’s acrobatic stunts that will make your head spin.
But just because all these elements are appealing separately doesn’t mean they work well together, and it certainly doesn’t mean they’ll work on Broadway. Call me old-fashioned, but I like it when the part of a musical everyone’s talking about is the plotline, or at least the music.
That’s the real problem with “Turn Off the Dark.” Partly through its own fault, it’s been swept up in a combination of a media firestorm and technical overbrilliance, and there’s no way it can be judged on its artistic merits alone.
Which is what I thought the point of Broadway was supposed to be. Yes, you can find wonderful shows that just can’t get the right amount of financial backing Off-Broadway or Off-Off-Broadway, but the 40 shows on the Great White Way are supposed to represent the best theater in New York, if not the U.S. Not just the most expensive.
If “Turn Off the Dark” is successful, all it will do is encourage producers to go after big-budget shows like it, that emphasize spectacle theater over spectacular theater. And for every theater that is burdened with a blockbuster, one less quality show will make it to Broadway.
Perhaps my dislike for “Turn Off the Dark” is misguided. The songs I’ve listened to aren’t bad, and I’m a sucker for a good superhero story, so there’s the chance the musical could rise above its troubled beginnings and become an origin story for the ages.
Or it could be just another swing into that brick wall.