In light of the most recent accident at the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, we just cannot stay silent any longer! This is a terrible and, evidently, dangerous show that they need to pull the plug on.
I saw the show a few weeks ago and resisted writing too much about it because it's considered a bit tacky to "review" a show before it's formally opened. But at this point, with the show's opening date continually being pushed back, who cares? The fact is that people are still buying tickets to it, paying hundreds of dollars for an evening out, and they need to know that they really shouldn't be. The show has squandered any theater-tradition we're-still-in-previews good will by being such a catastrophic mess while still in said previews. Previews should be a time to tweak here and there, absolutely, but it should not be a time to say "Heh, heh, sorry this show is terrible and a technological hazard, but we're still in previews!" Not when people are paying $140 of their hard-earned money to see the damn thing. That disregard for people's time and money is, as I said after I left the show angry about the $60 I'd spent on my balcony ticket, robbery.
The important thing to note here is that the technological stuff is really the least of the show's problems. The real problem of director Julie Taymor and U2's unwieldy catastrophe is that it is really, truly horrendously and unfixably bad down to its bones. The book is a travesty, the music is lazy and awful — it's like listening to the scraps left on the floor after U2 recorded "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" — and the actors, including the voice-cracking lead Reeve Carney, are just not up to the vague, sloppy task set before them. If every flying element worked pretty much perfectly, as it did when I saw it, the show is still one of the worst things, if not the worst, I've ever seen on Broadway.
There is a moment of transcendent Taymorian beauty at the top of the show, with a bunch of flying girls acting as something of a human loom, that really gets you excited for all the glorious visuals to come. You know, the ones that you've paid a lot of money to see. And then there are... cardboard cut-outs, used in the big fight scenes. It's my understanding that Taymor was trying to create a sense of the jokey-jokey comic book aesthetic with things like cardboard cut-outs and a tiny Spider-Man doll that flies up the length of the stage during a climactic falling moment, but it just comes off as a huge middle-finger to the people who, again, paid hundreds of dollars to take their families to the show. "Ohhh you wanted the theatrical grandeur you were promised? Well here, you dumb low-brow sap looking for cheap thrills, here's a fucking cardboard cut-out, deal with it." The cheapness of the show's aesthetic, beyond the hokey actual flying moments or the elaborate and distracting moving set, seems aggressive and pointed, like Taymor and company are punishing us for being promised something huge and then actually expecting it.
So the show is ugly — the villain costumes trotted out in the second act range wildly from super cool (Swiss Miss is awesome, but has nothing to do) to heinously dumb (one guy is just an inflatable dinosaur swim toy, basically) — and it is also nonsensical. In an effort, I'm guessing, to feel like she was working on something more profound than the silly comic books she clearly disdains, Taymor has thrown in some faux-profound story about the original spider-bitch, Arachne from Greek mythology. (Hence the loom.) And yet the whole thing is done so clumsily, complete with a most-numbingly-stupid-musical-number-ever scene about spiders and shoes, that by the end of the second act you will honestly have absolutely no idea what the blessed fuck is going on on stage. And lest this begin to sound like a fun "Ohhh girlllll" theater disaster like Carrie, it is not. Spider-Man's biggest sin is that it is criminally boring. Just eyeball bleedingly boring. All the jerky flying (a lot of which, by the way, you can't even see from the balcony — good considering of sight-lines, Jules!) in the world can't make up for the fact that the core of the show is muddy, incoherent glop.
I'm inspired to write this because people keep getting hurt trying to make this thing work, and people keep buying tickets and then, when they are upset about the embarrassingly low quality of the show, they are being told in bitchy theater tones "It's previews, give them time." Well, I'm sorry, but they've had time. And they still can't get their shit together. People are injuring themselves, tech is a mess, and while they struggle to figure all that out, they're trotting out a dying turkey of a book and score and hoping that'll suffice. They shouldn't be charging money for tickets at this point. This thing is baaaad, guys. Really, really bad. And before you say it, this is not me trashing some ambitious can-do theater folks simply for their ambition. These are people spending tens of millions of dollars — you could do ten good, expensive shows with the money they're spending — to create a commercial product that's so cynical it seems to operate under the assumption that a good story is unnecessary so long as there's neat-o flying. And then they're charging you $140 a seat.
Dammit, I hate it when Riedel is right.