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Posted at 6:00 PM ET, 02/ 7/2011

SPIDER-MAN REVIEW: 'Turn Off the Dark' a formidable contender for worst musical ever

By Michael Cavna

A coherent plot. Tolerable music. Workable sets. And a little lucidity.

Washington Post theater critic Peter Marks doesn't necessarily ask for the moon and the stars when staring skyward to see a superhero soar through Broadway's Foxwoods Theatre. But given Marks's description of enduring a hellish performance of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," perhaps his gaze should have been fixed in a more, er, infernal direction.

In his new review, Marks consigns Julie Taymor's take on the Marvel tale to "the dankest sub-basement of the American musical theater."

Broadway's staging about the radioactive spider-bitten Peter Parker has been famously snakebit. The Taymor/Bono/The Edge musical is the most expensive Broadway production ever (a reported $65-million and counting); has weathered bad press and scathing criticism; and has sent several high-flying performers in need of serious medical treatment, including hospitalization.

(Speaking of press: Marks notes that "based on the preview period's ever-expanding length and the intense public interest generated by the nationwide news coverage, this newspaper decided, like many other outlets, not to wait out the latest delay and observe Feb. 7 as the opening." According to Playbill, "Spider-Man" reps said that they haven't accommodated any reviewing press and that they were not alerted that reviews would be published this week.)

But back to the review at hand: Marks writes that "story-wise, 'Spider-Man' is a shrill, insipid mess, a musical aimed squarely at a Cub Scout demographic" and that the production is "a tangle of disjointed concepts, scenes and musical sequences that suggests its more appropriate home would be off a highway in Orlando. Come to think of it, the optimal audience might be non-English-speaking."

You can read Marks's entire withering review right here.

The Rant: For Broadway's SPIDER-MAN, it is time to turn off this lark

Elsewhere, the L.A. Times's Charles McNulty calls the musical "a teetering colossus that can't find its bearings as a circus spectacle or as a rock musical."

Variety's Steven Suskin writes: "Weaknesses lie with the book, music and lyrics, a kiss of death for most musicals; Taymor and her producers seem to think this a minor flaw, and initial box office returns suggest they might be right."

But New York magazine's Scott Brown is more positive, geeking out to the freakdom as he writes: "It's by turns hyperstimulated, vivid, lurid, overeducated, underbaked, terrifying, confusing, distracted, ridiculously slick, shockingly clumsy, unmistakably monomaniacal and clinically bipolar."

And Slate's Jason Zinoman seems rather wowed by the rebellious magnitude of the train wreck, writing: "Julie Taymor took music from one of the most famous bands in the world, a beloved character cemented in the popular imagination, and, working in the most collaborative, homogenous form in American theater, created a deeply personal story that is defiantly her own. ... Her chutzpah is staggering."

The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney belittles the effort: "Spider-Man is chaotic, dull and a little silly. And there's nothing here half as catchy as the 1967 ABC cartoon theme tune."

The Chicago Tribune's Chris Jones bemoans the "incoherent story" and writes: "For without a book with consistent rules that a mainstream audience can follow and track, without characters in whom one can invest emotionally, without a sense of the empowering optimism that should come from time spent in the presence of a good, kind man who can walk up buildings and save our lousy world from evil, it is all just clatter and chatter."

Charges of incoherence seem to be a theme here, as Bloomberg's Jeremy Gerard writes in his re-review: "Neither Taymor nor her co-writer, Glen Berger, have found a way to improve the book, a protofeminist stew that foolishly decants the myth of the weaver Arachne into a story that's incoherent to begin with."

And the New York Times's Ben Brantley says the only thing standing between him and 40 winks is the thrill of the potential fear factor: "The sheer ineptitude of this show, inspired by the Spider-Man comic books, loses its shock value early. After 15 or 20 minutes, the central question you keep asking yourself is likely to change from 'How can $65-million look so cheap?' to 'How long before I'm out of here?' "

IMAGE OF THE DAY: New Yorker cover artist sends Spider-Man to the hospital

OBAMA & GLENN BECK: They agree on one thing: Spidey!

ANIMATION OF THE DAY: Taiwan's NMA takes a bite out of 'Spider-Man'

By Michael Cavna  | February 7, 2011; 6:00 PM ET
Categories:  General, Superheroes  | Tags:  Bono, Julie Taymor, Marvel, Peter Marks, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, The Edge  
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I have tickets for next Saturday. I can't wait.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 7, 2011 7:31 PM | Report abuse

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