How does one “turn off the dark”? (See video above for an example of how to turn on the dark.) Is this question answered in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the long-suffering Broadway musical that is still only its preview period after almost a season’s worth of technical mishaps, a couple of them gravely injurious? Maybe the critics have the answer. Regardless, the critics have spoken — more than a month earlier than they are supposed to (opening day is scheduled for March 15).
A number of major newspapers chose to run reviews of the show in today’s editions. Understandably, the musical’s rep was not happy. But maybe the critics are — not without snark — doing the musical a favor by potentially putting the spectacle to bed before it can disappoint an untold number of paying customers, as these writers seem to unanimously claim it will.
Herewith, a roundup of the reviews, because critics are seldom rewarded for their ability to be critical. This, if nothing else, is a nice lesson in criticism.
Ben Brantley, New York Times: “This production should play up regularly and resonantly the promise that things could go wrong. Because only when things go wrong in this production does it feel remotely right — if, by right, one means entertaining.” Things did go wrong during the performance Brantley saw, and a cast member chose to ad-lib a joke about the musical’s mishaps during the “mechanical difficulties.”
Elizabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: “A breathtakingly beautiful scene is followed by a laughable one. The flying sequences can be thrilling, as when Spider-Man first takes off over the orchestra; other times, they look barely good enough for Six Flags…”
Chris McNulty, Los Angeles Times: “[T]he investors of ‘Spider-Man’ have inadvertently bankrolled an artistic form of megalomania.”
Jason Zinoman, Slate: “Imagine the gall it takes to have Spider-Man wrestle a cheap-looking blow-up doll in the most expensive musical in history. Or to have an almost incoherent book so witless that what passes for a joke is a character misunderstanding the difference between “free will” and Free Willy. Then there’s the Bono-and-the-Edge anthem about shoes, and the more mundane issues such as inconsistencies of character …”
Peter Marks, Washington Post: “Story-wise, ‘Spider-Man’ is a shrill, insipid mess, a musical aimed squarely at a Cub Scout demographic. Looking at the sad results, you’re compelled to wonder: Where did all those tens of millions go?”
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: “The show reportedly cost $65 million and that’s clearly gone into mechanics, hydraulics and aerial rigging. It seems only 10 cents has gone into the confusing story and humorless dialogue.”
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: “In essence, Taymor and Berger tie themselves in knots trying to shove the inherently dualistic nature of melodrama into a psychological hexahedron of their own creation.”
There you have it. Enter the psychological hexahedron at your own risk.