'Spider-Man' gives critics arachnophobia

The reviews are in for the Broadway show Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

That itself is a bit shocking, since critics usually abide by tradition and hold off rendering judgement until all previews are over and the official opening night arrives, which in this case is 15 March. But they have also panned it, creating a double disaster for a show that should have had everything going for it.

With $65m (£40m) spent, it is the costliest show to hit Broadway. It boasts the highly publicised aerial technology to give the performers flight, the talent of director Julie Taymor (who also directed The Lion King), and music by Bono and The Edge.

But it has been plagued by problems, such as accidents caused by the wires and harnesses not working properly. With the storyline also malfunctioning, the producers pushed back opening night four times while packing the house with punters playing full price for tickets and thriving on glowing feedback from celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey.

Enough, the critics declared, unveiling their reviews yesterday. Some publications, like the New York Post, thought it necessary to explain this apparent disregard for convention. An editor's note said: "Given the flurry of celebrity endorsements and booming, full-price ticket sales – and the producers' confirmation that the score and ending are finally in place – the Post believes it's time our readers know what to expect."

The review from the Post's critic, Elisabeth Vincentelli, was not exactly kind, but was among the more moderate of all those to appear. The show, she wrote, was in "equal parts exciting and atrocious... constantly seesawing between the galvanising and the lame". The Hollywood Reporter called it "chaotic, dull and a little silly" while New York magazine described it as "under-baked, terrifying, confusing".

Rick Miramontez, the show's spokesman, said: "This pile-on by the critics is a huge disappointment. Changes are still being made."

How they whacked the Webslinger

Ben Brantley, New York Times:

"The sheer ineptitude of this show, inspired by the Spider-Man comic books, loses its shock value early. After 15 or 20 minutes, the central question you keep asking yourself is likely to change from 'How can $65m look so cheap?' to 'How long before I'm out of here?'... Spider-Man is not only the most expensive musical ever to hit Broadway; it may also rank among the worst."

Charles McNulty, LA Times:

"Well, it turns out there is a valid reason the producers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark have been keeping critics at bay. Julie Taymor's $65m, accident-prone production, featuring an erratic score by U2's Bono and The Edge, is a teetering colossus that can't find its bearings as a circus spectacle or as a rock musical. The show's long-term prospects seem to me nearly as grim as the fate of Bette Davis's character in another work with 'dark' in the title – Dark Victory. Not since that 1939 weeper have the words 'prognosis negative' seemed so apt."

Peter Marks, Washington Post:

"I haven't seen every stinker ever produced, so I can't categorically confirm that Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark belongs in the dankest sub-basement of the American musical theater. But its application certainly seems to be in order. What's apparent after 170 spirit-snuffing minutes... is that director Julie Taymor, of The Lion King fame, left a few essential items off her lavish shopping list: 1. Coherent plot 2. Tolerable music 3. Workable sets."

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune:

"The much-told woes of Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark boil down to a problem that has similarly ensnared far humbler new musicals: an incoherent story. For without a book with consistent rules that a mainstream audience can follow, without characters in whom one can invest emotionally, without a sense of the empowering optimism that should come from time spent in the presence of a good man who can walk up buildings and save our lousy world from evil, it is all just clatter and chatter."

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