'Spider-Man' Musical Opens Without Incident

Well, almost incident-free

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It's rare for the opening performance of a Broadway show to be deemed a success simply because the cast avoided the loss of life or limb, but the super-expensive, super-troubled Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was never supposed to be an ordinary musical. By those heightened (or maybe lowered) standards, but U2's Bono and The Edge--about the only members of the original creative team still in place--have to feel good about Tuesday's final, official opening at Foxwoods Theater, which proceeded quietly and without incident, save for an hour-delay at the top of the show. When the curtain did rise, U2's planes (and aerial stunt doubles) filled the skies, but more importantly, they stuck the landing.

Credit Bono with lowering the public's expectations even further in the days leading up to the show. On Monday, he told an audience at 92Y on the Upper East Side that the show was "10 percent" from being done. He repeated that same figure Tuesday in an NBC Nightly News interview with Brian Williams. (He also called it a "magical piece of theater.")

Critics weren't willing to go that far, but the did majority concede director Philip McKinley's restaged version was an improvement over Julie Taymor's original, which opened to near-universal pans in February:
  • "Spidey 2.0 is more cohesive, streamlined and funnier than before, and its thrills are still intact," said Joe Dziemanowicz of the New York Daily News, while adding the show is "still weighed down by so-so songs."
  • New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley offered the evening's most generous backhanded compliment. Said Brantley: "Until last weekend, when I caught a performance of this show’s latest incarnation, I would have recommended Spider-Man only to carrion-feasting theater vultures. Now, if I knew a less-than-precocious child of 10 or so, and had several hundred dollars to throw away, I would consider taking him or her to the new and improved Spider-Man."
  • Compared to the "stillborn one-liners, mythical aspirations, and convoluted, ho-hum plot" that doomed Taymor's version, Philadelphia Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro was impressed to find the changes made during a three-week production shutdown in March turned the show into something "far more than a tortured curiosity. It has humor, and winks gamely at itself. It has flight sequences that make sense, are not repetitively tiresome and, most of all, work technically."
  • Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout was less impressed. He summed up the final product in succinct fashion: "$70 million and nearly nine years of effort, all squandered on a damp squib."

Notable faces spotted in the crowd: Spike Lee, Chelsea Clinton, President Bill Clinton (seated between Chelsea and Bono) and, of course, Taymor, who announced this afternoon that she would be in attendance. No word on what Taymor's thoughts on the retooled version of her labor of love, but President Clinton seemed to like it. "It works," he enthused to the Wall Street Journal at intermission. "The sets are great, the choreography is great. I love it. The story really hangs together."

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