There has only been one story this week in theatre land that everyone has been talking about from Manchester to Manhattan, that the Broadway musical Spiderman – Turn off the Dark finally opened for previews, and just like the whole epic journey of getting the mammoth 65million dollar musical to the stage the drama carried on, but maybe quite unfairly.

For those who don’t know about this epic new show by Julie Taymor, Bono and The Edge from U2, let me give you a quick catch up lesson.

The Beginning
Spiderman has taken over 8 years to finally get to the stage and has seen its fair share of troubles, the first producer of the show dropped dead in front of The Edge as the contracts were about to be signed, when a new producer stepped in it was revealed the show had run out of money and all work stopped. The money was found and started up again only to cancel many months of performances which led to the departure of Hollywood star Evan Rachel Wood and Alan Cumming, new preview dates were announced and pushed again after 2 performers were hurt during rehearsing the flying stunts, the stunts finally passed inspection and on the 28th November it finally had its first preview, a night I’m sure will go down in history.
 
The Press
With all this drama the press have had a field day with the show, especially this past year. Michael Riedel (The Perez Hilton of the New York Theatre scene) seems to have found his new Taboo, gossip, speculation and negativity have flooded his columns for months just as he did with Taboo and Young Frankenstein (he only seems to be happy when he’s wreaking havoc) and many other publications stated that the show would be the biggest flop of all time. The fact the show even got to the stage the other night surprised everyone, ‘I can’t believe it’s actually opened’ said one theatre fan on a message board, however if Taymor and co were hoping that the negativity would be laid to rest after the first preview they could not have been more wrong.
 
Bumpy Preview
The packed 1900 audience members at the (horribly named) Foxwoods Theatre on Broadway were treated to a night of late starts, terrible sound and the show stopping no less than 5 times as stunts left actors hanging mid air, yes it had a very bumpy first preview.
 
What amazed me though was how quick the information came about that performance, through act one people were tweeting from inside the theatre about every detail, the message boards on sites like Broadway World lit up for the night with interval comments coming out fast and furious and then the show finished and it seemed like all hell broke loose.

Some tweeted positive things, many tweeted negative things ‘The book is incoherent’ said one ‘the score is dull’ claimed another yet even with the tech issues most seemed to agree the show looked stunning.

Theatre fans talking and discussing a first preview of a show is not a new thing (as I’ve written before), in my opinion it’s not a bad thing, if you pay for a ticket to a public performance then you should have the right to express exactly how you feel about that performance. However it was the next morning that must have had Taymor spluttering in to her corn flakes. Major newspapers like The New York Times, The Post, Wall Street Journal etc. all wrote articles talking about the troubled preview, some were borderline reviews disguised as articles (many printed all the tweets about the night’s performance), message board comments are one thing, but major newspapers seems to be quite another.

It used to be that shows were allowed a preview period to sort out their problems before the press even commented on the show, a simple announcement the show was in previews and on sale was all we would see in the papers until the official opening night, but it looks like Spiderman is the kind of circus that everyone wants’ to talk about, I mean here I am doing it myself.

Stick up for Spidey
However I feel I want to jump in and defend the show, even without seeing it. The knives have been out for Spiderman for a very long time, Taymor who is visual genius seems to have a lot of theatre fans who treat her like the antichrist of Broadway. Bono and The Edge have also come under fire from some, and its 65 million budget seems to have annoyed everyone. With 65 million to make back the show needs to earn 1 million a week every week to be able to make its money back (in around 4 to 5 years) ‘It can’t be done’ say some, but why not?

The shows first preview grossed an impressive $200.000, at 8 shows a week at that gross that’s over $1.5 million, the show even with some empty seats can still make its money back and stay afloat. The name Spiderman is also a very recognisable brand, and with promise of mid air fight scenes over the audience and some of the most jaw dropping sets in Broadway’s history it could very easily become a tourist favourite.

The show had a very bumpy first preview, but to be honest many shows have terrible first previews (Titanic springs to mind) and with the technology this show is using it was never going to run smooth. The show clearly needs to sort out its tech side and I’m sure Taymor, Bono and The Edge (once they get back from Australia) will use the next 6 weeks of previews to sort out the book and score. As Broadway producer Ken Davenport said ‘They are building the musical version of the Great Wall of China’ and he’s right, this process is going to be a bumpy one to get it ready for the press when it opens officially in January, maybe the press should leave the show alone until the team are ready to invite them in to review. My fear is that if they follow each preview performance and difficulties it has getting the show in to shape they could kill the shows chances before it even opens. The folks at the Foxwoods have a lot of work to do, let them do it.

I think we need to remember as well that this show is employing a staggering amount of people to work on the show, let’s not bad mouth them out of a job shall we? 

Cheap previews?
One interesting point did come out though the drama of the other night though. Many theatre fans who paid $140 to see the first preview complained the show was not finished, with all the problems it was a mess and even felt like a rehearsal (one woman heckled in the theatre the same thing but was luckily silenced by the rest of the audience), should producers be charging so high for those preview performances? Probably not, in fact they used to be cheaper but those days seem to have gone. Now I always feel sorry for tourists in these situations who have no idea what a preview is, they can unexpectedly walk in to something like Spiderman’s first preview hoping to see a polished show but what they get is much less, however it’s not a great amount who don’t know what a preview is and they don’t seem to be the ones doing the complaining....it’s the hardcore theatre fans.

Now I’m sorry but all of those people know exactly what a preview is and if they want to see a polished end product they should book after the preview period is over. Especially with Spiderman which was obviously going to have issues in previews. People are so eager to watch a show that they book front row, first preview and then seem to take great glee in bashing the show for not being perfect. If you book for that performance knowing what it is then you only have yourself to blame.

The future looks bleak
The message boards will continue to be lit up by talk of the show during previews, what’s changing? What role was cut? What numbers were cut? But I really hope the folks behind the show just try to ignore the negativity and do the work they need to do to make Spiderman a musical worthy of its $65 million price tag. The work they are attempting to put on the stage is incredible, the technology could be used in many other shows and it really does feel like it’s moving the technical and production side of a show to whole new levels, as a theatre fan who loves to see theatre change and evolve I’m excited for that.

Good luck, Spidey
Spiderman could open and be a terrible disappointment, the press could hate it and the show could close early losing everything just like many have done before, but predicting a shows doom after one public preview seems a little harsh. Yes it has a battle on its hands and battling the Green Goblin must seem a breeze for the masked hero compared to the wrath of the press, but I for one am rooting for you Spidey.
 
- Craig Hepworth