There are a number of aspects to arts criticism, but one of them is certainly consumer journalism.
After months of pushback by producers of the new Broadway production, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” Broadway critics decided this week to put to the consumer first and review the troubled show.
Traditionally, critics allow a show to go through several weeks of “preview” performances during which it is still being tweaked before an official opening night, when the show locks into a form it will assume for the duration of its run. But after three opening nights were declared and scrapped for the $65 million behemoth, critics decided enough was enough and have rendered opinions on the show.
And it ain’t pretty.
Recounting a mishap during the performance he saw on Feb. 7 (opening night No. 3), The New York Times’ Ben Brantley wrote, “only when things go wrong in this production does it feel remotely right – if, by right, one means entertaining.”
The Washington Post’s Peter Marks wrote, “If you’re going to spend $65 million and not end up with the best musical of all time, I suppose there’s a perverse distinction in being one of the worst.
“Mind you, 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 subbasement of the American musical theater. But its application certainly seems to be in order.”
And so it went from there. Some reviews were kinder, but uniformly they confirmed the buzz coming out of the Foxwoods Theatre and now-more-than-60 preview performances: “Spider-Man” is an artistic bomb.
So, what did the show’s spokesman, Rick Miramontez, do? Of course, he blamed the messengers.
“The PILE-ON by the critics was ridiculous and uncalled for,” he said in what was billed as an exclusive statement to Entertainment Weekly. “Their actions are unprecedented and UNCOOL!”
No, Rick, here’s what’s uncalled for: Artists as talented as Julie Taymor, Bono and The Edge – whose work I have admired in the past – opening the doors on a show that is so-not-ready for prime time that you have had to call off three opening nights and will have gone through more than three months of previews before opening night, IF it opens March 15.
And, while we have you, Rick, here’s what’s uncool: Charging up to $300 for seats and well over $100 for all but the nosebleed seats for a show you admit is still a work in progress. Not to mention that many people holding tickets for recent and upcoming performances bought them believing they were getting tickets to a completed product.
Granted, no one forced them to buy tickets. But when you are charging that kind of freight, it’s pretty disingenuous that your only excuse for a lousy show is those meanie critics shouldn’t have reviewed it.
The critics were fulfilling their responsibility to their readers. I have to think that in the Internet age, Broadway critics have to be frustrated with the preview process in general as bloggers, tweeters and others weigh in on preview shows while they accommodate producers by sitting on the sidelines until the officials say its time – especially when the show has been the top grossing production on Broadway for weeks. (Whenever I tell people unfamiliar with Broadway about the preview process, where consumers are charged top dollar for tickets to a show that’s supposedly incomplete, they think it’s really weird.)
Good for them for finally declaring the charade had gone on long enough, and it was time for “Spider-Man” to get an assessment from the professional critics.