Critics dangle faint praise for revamped 'Spider-Man' musical

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The Independent Culture

It opened at last and no one in the orchestra seats was hurt by plummeting performers – a good thing with the likes of Matt Damon and Bill Clinton in the house. Yet as the reviews came in yesterday, the impression lingered that the false starts for Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark have been more diverting than the show will ever be.

The highwire acts inside the Foxwoods Theatre could be seen as a symbol for the terrors suffered by the producers of the comic-book musical, the cast and the writers of its score – Bono and The Edge of U2.

The show has been largely rewritten since it began previews last November. Five performers were hurt after stunts went wrong and the original director, Julie Taymor, was fired in March. She was cheered at the premiere as Bono and the Edge welcomed her on stage with kisses and hugs.

It is imperative for the $70m (£43m) musical that every seat is filled, preferably at full price, for three or four years. When American critics broke an embargo and wrote their first reviews last winter before the show's official – and delayed – formal opening, they were derisive. It was therefore vital that they like the retooled version better .

And they did like it better, but that is not saying much. If the critics blew their collective noses loudly after seeing the original version of Spider-Man, they were still a bit sniffy yesterday. The least kindest among them described the musical as a "bore" and a "bloated monster".

Others agreed that it may have risen to the level of a bona fide tourist attraction with legs to run for a while, but remained artistically mediocre.

"This singing comic book is no longer the ungodly, indecipherable mess it was in February. It's just a bore," wrote Ben Brantley, chief critic at The New York Times. "The first time I saw the show, it was like watching the Hindenburg burn and crash." The Washington Post, similarly unimpressed, said: "This Spidey just can't get off the ground."

And The Hollywood Reporter was equally unimpressed: "While the emergency surgical team has injected fanboy humour and self-conscious acknowledgments of the production's rocky gestation, they have not located a heart in this bloated monster."

All the technical issues appear to have been resolved and the aerobatics still thrill. But some of the early criticisms have not been entirely answered, notably that the plotlines are feeble, the characters are shallow and the music from Bono and The Edge is especially disappointing.

In interviews this week, Bono admitted that there was "no way on earth" he and The Edge would have become involved in the first place if he had known it would be so time consuming. Even now, he considers the show to be only 90 per cent along the way to where he would like it to be, he said.

"Everything just went out of control but tonight we pulled it back again," Bono told an NBC reporter at the opening night. He said the show and his part in it had been victims of over-inflated expectations and the media's delight in seeing the famous falter. "Watching a couple of rock stars slip on a banana skin is kind of fun," he said.