Searching for the nice reviews of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark"

With another actor injured and Julie Taymor fired, can't someone say something nice about poor Spidey?

By Drew Grant
Published March 24, 2011 3:25PM (EDT)
Highflying, not adored.
Highflying, not adored.

Spider-Man just can't catch a break on Broadway, unless the break in question refers to the bones of actors who have found themselves in a heap of crumpled costume and webbing after one of the myriad of accidents that have beset the juggernaut musical. And it's getting worse: Not only has "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark's" director Julie Taymor been fired from her post, but actress T.V. Carpio, who plays Arachne in the show, became the fifth major player to get injured during a performance. And this is while the show is still in previews! "Spider-Man" is quickly becoming the "Macbeth" of musicals.

And what have these men and women sacrificed their bodies (and possibly careers) for? A giant pile of garbage, according to the critics. The Internet is full of listicles like "Spider-Man: five things we hated," "Spider-Man: Which review is the harshest?" and "The 9 most scathing reviews of 'Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.'"

With everyone from the New York Times to the Hollywood Reporter  panning the play as a lost cause and a major money sinkhole (not to mention a deathtrap), you begin to feel almost bad for the actors, set designers and crew members who have worked their asses off to create the biggest musical flop in existence. After all, they didn't write the terrible lyrics, crib the nonsensical plot from some half-baked Greek mythos, or ask to be high-wired without the proper safety requirements. So we went through and found the complimentary reviews of "Spider-Man" hidden beneath the scathing critiques. Like Whitney Matheson of PopCandy, who was very impressed with the show's  first half:

I found myself a little breathless. The budget for this show is a record-breaking $65 million, and it's clear a good amount of it was spent on production design. Sets are elaborate and eye-popping, and some are only seen for a few minutes before they're whisked away. Pieces blend elements of reality and the cartoonish; one minute Spidey might be battling an actor, and the next he's pummeling a giant inflatable wrestler. (OK, so that was a little weird. But still amusing.)

What else did I like? I don't see how anyone could be bored the first time Spider-Man sails into the audience; though the wire technique has been plagued with problems, it's pretty fascinating to watch when it's done right and happening a couple feet over your head. spoke to a vaguely enthusiastic attendee who was very impressed by all those wires that may or may not maim you (Note: Considering how fake this guy's name sounds, there is no guarantee he wasn't just made up):

Theatergoer Frank Toughill attended Wednesday night’s show. He said that "Spiderman" is a lot of fun, but the producers still have work to do. "It's different. It's not very Broadway, it's more cirque du soleil," said Toughill. "The flying is spectacular and it’s a fun show. I think if they get a couple more weeks of performances under their belt, they’ll be really be getting something good."

Ain't It Cool panned the show, but managed to give it some props for the set design as well:

But there's moments - fleeting, but they're there - when everything is working - the music, the set design, the acting, the stunts - and we as an audience are simply transported. The action setpieces are amazing. The various stuntmen playing Spider-Man in the various fights are to be commended, because at times it really does seem like a comic book come to life. I think Reeve Carney as Peter Parker/Spider-Man does tremendous work here and he could very well become a star after this.

Even Variety, which panned the show completely, managed to grudgingly pull out a compliment for the impressive flying techniques:

Once airborne, though, the sequence is impressive, and the second is an amazing aerial fight waged over the heads of the patrons in prime orchestra seats. The second act flights are considerably less exciting, except for one with the resident spider woman and five other flying gals. This one is a visual feast, heightened by a combination of lights, projections, and colored webs.

Unfortunately, it looks like what most impressed everyone about the show was exactly why it's failing: overly expensive sets that ate up most of the production's $65 million budget, and the impressive flights of fancy, which has nearly killed its own cast.


Drew Grant

Drew Grant is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @videodrew.

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