Tuesday, November 30, 2010

U2's 'Spider-Man' Musical Spins Tangled Web of Disaster at First Preview,

After enduring high-profile production delays, major casting changes and the highest bill in Broadway history by a wide margin (most estimates put it in the $65 million range), the U2-penned musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" finally opened for preview performances this past weekend. And, by all accounts, the musical's inaugural show, staged at the Great White Way's Foxwoods Theater, was an even bigger disaster than critically loathed "Spider-Man 3" movie. As the New York Post so eloquently put it in today's review, "Turn Off the Dark" is "an epic flop as the $65 million show's high-tech gadgetry went completely awry amid a dull score and baffling script." Ouch.

Faced with towering critical and box office expectations due to its high cost and marquee talent, the "Turn Off the Dark" musical does have a lot going for it. It was scored by Bono and the Edge, and its jaw-dropping sets, costumes and cavalcade of infamous and original villains were imagined by Julie Taymor (of the $4.2 billion-grossing "Lion King" theatrical production).

But perhaps its biggest draw are the high-flying aerial effects that promise to wow audiences in a way that Broadway has never seen before. Taymor's crew has rigged the theater with all manner of pulleys and acrobatic high-wires in order to tell the story of Marvel Comics' teenage web-slinger. It's those ambitious aerial effects that resulted in five delays during the first preview performance, with technical difficulties often stranding the actors as they hovered above the audience for several minutes at a time.

Audience members, who paid in the vicinity of $140 to see this debut performance, were warned by the show's producer Michael Cohl before the curtain went up that the show might need to hit the brakes throughout, since it was still a work in progress (it doesn't open officially until January 11, 2011). However, no one in the audience could have anticipated just how many times the performance would screech to a halt: There were four stoppages in the first act alone, including one incident where a stunt-gone-wrong left Spider-Man star Reeve Carney hovering over the audience for several minutes while stagehands tried to reel him back in. That mishap resulted in intermission being called prematurely, and the break itself lasted over 40 minutes. (It's worth noting that Act One itself started nearly a half-hour late, but the audience's slow filing to their seats could be to blame.)

In total, the preview performance ran a "Gone With the Wind"-esque three hours and 20 minutes, which is apparently more than a modern day audience can take in one sitting. During a technical stoppage in the second act, one frustrated woman in the audience yelled, "I don't know how everyone else feels, but I feel like a guinea pig today -- I feel like it's a dress rehearsal." The heckler was promptly booed, according to the New York Times, as the audience banded together to take pity on the technical woes facing "Spider-Man" five weeks before its opening. Considering that thankfully no one was injured during the preview performance -- two "Spider-Man" actors suffered broken bones while attempting the aerials during rehearsals last month -- it seems as though the musical is progressing positively on its march toward opening night.

It's not uncommon for previews to have glitches -- actors drop lines, miss cues -- and generally audiences are forgiving of that sort of thing. But when a show promises as much visual dazzle as "Turn Off The Dark," it may have a difficult time avoiding the bad PR stemming from such a trouble-plagued first preview.

What could be most damaging from the standpoint of traditional and word-of-mouth press is the fact that technical issues seemingly overshadowed the musical's other problems, which included a convoluted plot that seemed to confuse hardcore and nascent Spidey fans alike. Even U2's score, led by the first single "Boy Falls From the Sky," didn't receive the rave reviews that greeted the band's most recent album "No Line on the Horizon."

With a price tag of $65 million plus a weekly running cost of $1 million, its estimated that "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" would need to sell out every performance for the better part of forever (or at least "many months," says Variety) in order to finally turn a profit. No small feat by Broadway standards.

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