It’s been several months since the cast of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark first broke a leg and other things in those earliest, 183 "preview" performances of the costly Broadway musical, and since then the press has dogged of every step of its painful creative rebirth, and collected every crystallized Julie Taymor tear along the way. And after firing Taymor, bringing in comics-schooled consultants, retooling the soundtrack, scaling back the aerial assaults, and other attempts to rescue the show from investment-blowing disaster, the show finally had its “official” debut last night before many of the same jerky critics who jumped the gun and prompted its overhaul in the first place. So what’s the new, producer-sanctioned word?
In summation, Turn Off The Dark has gone from epic, laughable spectacle to something dull, safe, and predictable, eloquently summed up by New York Times critic Ben Brantley—who originally deemed the musical a “national joke” and “so grievously broken in every respect that it is beyond repair”—as “no longer the ungodly, indecipherable mess it was in February. It’s just a bore.” Yeah, eat your words, Ben Brantley! It totally was capable of change, evident in your assessment that it has changed from a “muddled fever dream” to a “straightforward children’s entertainment” of the average quality of an amusement park sideshow.
Similarly, New York Magazine’s Scott Brown believes the show “has deteriorated from mindblowingly misbegotten carnival-of-the-damned to merely embarrassing dud,” comparing it to “that good-and-crazy friend with a highly entertaining substance-abuse problem, the one who went off and got clean, and came back a different and diminished person.” Meanwhile, Entertainment Weekly’s Thom Geier compares its awkward pastiche of salvaged Taymor sequences and new, more dumbed-down plot to “one of mom’s end-of-the-week casseroles made of leftovers she couldn’t bear to toss." And the Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout sums it up by saying, “$70 million and nearly nine years of effort, all squandered on a damp squib.”
But hey, they weren’t all negative: For one thing, former President Bill Clinton absolutely adored it, speaking up for non-elitist Americans (like Glenn Beck before him) by calling it an amazing and historic night on Broadway and praising its cast and crew for “not giving up.” And even among those notoriously hard-to-please critical bodies, some also managed to damn it with very faint praise. We’ve gone ahead and assembled some pull-quotes that should make for serviceable blurbs on future promotional posters. You’re welcome.
“The story makes sense now, and so far no one has fallen down!” — Newsday
"It will by no means assume a spot in the pantheon of great Broadway musicals, but it’s now far more than a tortured curiosity!" — Philadelphia Inquirer
"Clearly just enough of an improvement to lose its tragic glory!" — Rolling Stone
“Sometimes soars!” — Financial Times
“The best-looking mediocre musical ever to open on Broadway!’ — Wall Street Journal
“A remarkable achievement for those who have toiled for coherence and a measure of absolution!” — Chicago Tribune
“It may not be the best thing in theater, but it is far from the worst show in Broadway history!” — Associated Press