I probably won’t be seeing Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the new musical hitting Broadway. It’s not just because tickets, priced at $75 for the balcony, $150 for orchestra and “flying circle,” are a little dear for my pocketbook. Odds are I might not have a chance to see the show, which officially opens
on January 11, February 7, March 15, in early June, even if I did have a ticket. Spider-Man, the musical, has already been pronounced dead on arrival, thanks to a single, disastrous preview performance last Sunday. Tweets emanating from the theater reported every glitch and gaffe: the action was stopped five times due to technical problems; Spider-Man himself was left hanging over the audience, causing the first act to be cut short. The New York Times reported that crew members spent a minute onstage trying to grab their superhero by the foot. One exasperated audience member shouted, “I feel like a guinea pig . . . like this is a dress rehearsal.”
Ouch. This all comes on the heels of setbacks and schedule delays in the high-profile, high-expectation Julie Taymor production, with music by Bono and the Edge. The U2 front men were first engaged to write the score nine years ago and Spider-Man was originally set to open last winter, then last spring, then last fall. Meanwhile, production costs soared to $65 million, the most ever for Broadway. So theater insiders and ticketholders were understandably armed and ready for the preview performances. And ironically, the advanced technology upon which the concept of a flying superhero relies may also prove to be the show’s undoing.
Previews have traditionally been the time to tweak productions before opening, to work out technical glitches, allow actors to get into the rhythm, add or drop songs and elements of the score. Such things used to be smoothed over in out-of-town tryouts, as any fan of backstage movie musicals knows, and critics held their tongues when the shows did arrive in New York. Gossip emerged, but general opinion was not fully formed until after opening night.
But such luxuries are no longer afforded any production in the days of instant communication. Even the smallest Off-Broadway dramas are the subject of intense blogging, Facebooking and tweets about casting, staging, production ills and backstage drama. Theatergoers who have held a ticket since last year to a Spider-Man preview are itching to share the news, and they don’t even have to wait to get home and log on to do so; they can let their feelings be known from the lobby, or even from their seats.
So what chance does a troubled show have to settle down the flying apparatus and let Spider-Man soar, whether he deserves to or not? Can online comments and speculation do serious box-office damage or affect financial and artistic decisions before a show even gets off the ground? Word on the street is that the Foxwoods Theater, where Spider-Man was expected to settle in for a years-long run, is already shopping around for a new tenant. Some preview performances were cancelled for this week, to work on the problems so widely reported. That drastic step may or may not have been taken in the past, but this blockbuster, which is estimated to cost $1 million a week to operate and so literally can’t afford to fail, is under sharper scrutiny than anything that’s come before. For once, Spidey may have to think of saving himself first.
(Update, 4.18—Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has indeed gone dark. Producers have announced the show will close for a major revamping after director Julie Taymor was relieved of her duties. The official opening of a more “family friendly” version has been reset for June 12.)