Broadway's 'Spider-Man,' Tangled Up In Twitter

The musical Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark doesn't open until Jan. 11, but after only one preview performance, it's being declared a problem — if not a failure. Shows have traditionally used previews to work out their kinks, and this show has plenty still to come. But in the Internet age, the judgments come fast and early.

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This past Sunday, the public got its first look at Broadway's long-anticipated musical take on "Spider-Man." The show has an incredible pedigree: written and directed by "The Lion King's" Julie Taymor, with a score by U2's Bono and The Edge. But Sunday's preview did not go well. Judgment was harsh and, thanks to the Internet, swift. "Spider-Man" officially opens January 11th, but as Jeff Lunden reports, it's tough being a high-profile work in progress in the Internet age.

JEFF LUNDEN: The tweets started just before the curtain rose 24 minutes late on the first preview of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," and continued during the show. Quote, "Spider-Man musical preview. Glitch stops show mid-first act. Actress suspended above stage for five minutes now," unquote.

And for the next several hours during the show, which stopped four more times for technical difficulties, and the next day, on blogs and in newspapers, "Spider-Man" was sliced, diced, dissected and declared dead on arrival, all on the basis of its very first public showing.

Veteran producer Manny Azenberg is mystified.

Mr. MANNY AZENBERG (Broadway Producer): This is sort of like vultures sitting on a tree. These people did not start out to be embarrassed or to do an embarrassing show. And Julie Taymor is a heavy-weight director. So why everybody is rooting for this failure, in some perverse way, is somewhat unbecoming, I would think.

LUNDEN: A show's preview period is a time to work out the kinks in front of an audience: to tighten and clarify the story-telling, sometimes adding or cutting songs; to tame the technological complexities and make everything run smoothly.

But Manny Azenberg says the Internet means people can post their reactions immediately.

Mr. AZENBERG: This show is not going out of town for previews or for a tune-up, and it's so high profile that that first performance is the opening night, whether they like it or not.

LUNDEN: "Spider-Man" is under such intense scrutiny for many reasons, not the least of which is its budget-busting $65 million price tag, the highest in Broadway history - more than twice the cost of "Shrek," two years ago, says Bloomberg News theater reporter Jeremy Gerard.

Mr. JEREMY GERARD (Theater Reporter, Bloomberg News): The stakes on "Spider-Man" are so much higher and so much more in line with Las Vegas than Broadway that that's why everybody's really interested in it. This show is going to cost $1 million a week to run. That's twice as much as any other Broadway show.

LUNDEN: "Spider-Man's" problems have been well-documented, from the death of its founding producer to financial difficulties causing delays for a year, to actors getting injured practicing some of the show's ambitious high-tech flying stunts.

And, until it was unveiled on Sunday evening, nobody really knew what the show was, or was trying to be. A week and a half before previews began, U2 songwriter, The Edge, tried to explain.

THE EDGE (Musician): It's been impossible to find a way to describe what this thing is because it's not straight musical theater, it's not rock 'n' roll, it's not opera, and it's not circus. But it is elements of all of those things. So, we, in many ways, are kind of doing something that is highly ambitious and unprecedented.

LUNDEN: And his writing partner, Bono, acknowledged, even before previews started, that the technical challenges of the show were making progress slow and difficult.

BONO (Musician): In fact, when the previews come on, I wouldn't be surprised there'll be lots of stopping and starting. I know that's allowed, but in the days of the Internet, there'll probably be a lot of snickering.

LUNDEN: So, now Bono, The Edge and Julie Taymor are working under the microscope for the next seven weeks to get their show as right as can be. "Spider-Man" has its second Broadway preview tonight.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) You can fly too high and get too close to the sun. See how the boy falls from the sky. Not every wanderer is lost or far from home...

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