Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the $65 million Broadway musical from Lion King director Julie Taymor and Bono, of the Irish Bonos, was supposed to open on Monday night. It didn't—it's been delayed, again, till March 15—but that didn't stop a bunch of critics from reviewing it anyway. And they all agree: It's unbelievably bad.
This probably isn't a surprise if you've heard about the half-dozen actors Turn Off the Dark has injured in its interminable run of previews, or about the millions upon millions of dollars shoveled into the maw of a show that is not only, by all accounts, technically unworkable, but also barely finished.
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.
"Spider-Man" is not only the most expensive musical ever to hit Broadway; it may also rank among the worst... From what I saw on Saturday night, "Spider-Man" is so grievously broken in every respect that it is beyond repair.
The failure rests squarely on Taymor's run-amok direction. This is, after all, her vision, and it's a vision that has been indulged with too many resources, artistic and financial... The investors of "Spider-Man" have inadvertently bankrolled an artistic form of megalomania. The book, by Taymor and Glen Berger, is an absolute farrago, setting up layers and subplots before the main narrative line has been established.
What is the main narrative line, by the way? Most reviewers spend three or four paragraphs trying to figure it out. (There's a Greek chorus describing what happens? That's also writing the musical? And a Greek goddess? Who's also a super-villain?) Bloomberg's Jeremy Gerard doesn't even bother:
Neither Taymor nor her co-writer, Glen Berger, have found a way to improve the book, a protofeminist stew that foolishly decants the myth of the weaver Arachne into a story that's incoherent to begin with.
Of course, it'll take more than Lil' Ol' Julie Taymor to make the worst musical ever! Newsday's Linda Winer points out that Bono and The Edge wrote terrible songs to go with the incomprehensible plot:
More dispiriting is the music... [Bono and the Edge] transformed their sound into stock Broadway schlock pop—sentimental wailing from the early Andrew Lloyd Webber playbook, winceable lyrics and the kind of thumpa-thumpa music that passes for suspense in action flicks.
But the acting! Everyone seems to agree that the acting is okay! Even "fine"! If you can even find it! The Washington Post's Peter Marks says the actors "never stand a chance." The Hollywood Reporter reviewer David Rooney thinks that the cast "do fine within the limited scope of their roles." Put that one on your resume!
One prominent media figure happened to like the musical, though:
Give a kidney to go see ‘Spider-Man.' I'm telling you, mark my words, it's being panned right now, nobody's saying good stuff about it. I'm telling you, you go buy your ticket - you buy your ticket now, if you're thinking about coming to New York, because when this thing opens and it's starting to run, you will not be able to get tickets to this for a year. This is one of those shows, this is the ‘Phantom' of the 21st century. This is history of Broadway being made. I sat next to the casting director, by chance, and I said, ‘You, sir, are part of history.'
From whose penetrating mind did this ringing endorsement spring? Your friend and mine, Glenn Beck. (Why does Glenn Beck love the Spider-Man musical? New York's Scott Brown has a theory. We don't want to think about it.)