Critics Review 'Spider Man' While It's In Previews
NEAL CONAN, host:
The reviews are bad enough: sheer ineptitude, New York Times; incoherent, the Chicago Tribune; inconsistent, maddening, the New York Post; failure run amuck, the Los Angeles Times. But to add injury to the insults, the Broadway critics didn't even wait for "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" to open.
The most expensive musical ever staged repeatedly postponed its official premiere to work out any number of problems, most recently 'til March 15th. But the papers decided to publish today.
Joe Dziemianowicz reviews theater for the New York Daily News, and joins us from his office there.
Nice to have you with us.
Mr. JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ (Theater Critic, New York Daily News): Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And why did the papers decide not to wait for the official opening?
Mr. DZIEMIANOWICZ: Well, like you said, this is a big musical, and it's gotten a lot of attention. And as the producers of "Spider-Man" have repeatedly said throughout its progress - if you can call it progress -"Spider-Man" is a special case. So I broke protocol, along with several of my colleagues, because it was a special case - and because going to a Broadway show is an expensive undertaking for theatergoers. You know, as somebody who writes for the Daily News audience, I think it's important that you take a look and see if it's worth their money.
CONAN: And so, did you guys all get together at - somewhere and say, this is outrageous, we ought to publish?
Mr. DZIEMIANOWICZ: No, we didn't have a big campfire or anything like that. We - these decisions were made. My - the decision for me to go is made by my editor. And this was a logical date. This was the date that had been set, and until very recently, was going to be opening night. It's - as I said in the story today, the shiftiest thing about "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" isn't the cast of villains, but it's the opening date, you know? Am I thoroughly convinced it's going to be the Ides of March? Stay tuned.
CONAN: And nevertheless, we're supposed to believe that there was no consultation among you all, and everybody decided to publish today?
Mr. DZIEMIANOWICZ: It was a logical date. This was - this is not a surprising turn of events. February 7 was the date. So it's not - you don't have to kind of read tea leaves to figure out why that was the date.
CONAN: And is there an agreement - or is it an unwritten agreement -that critics don't ordinarily publish until opening day?
Mr. DZIEMIANOWICZ: That's exactly right. Is it written? No. I've never -actually, when I became the critic for the Daily News five years ago, I wasn't given a contract to sign that said I wouldn't do that. It's a gentlemen's agreement. And there are instances when agreements need to be broken. This was that case.
CONAN: And all of these arrangements have been changed over the years. It used to be you went opening night and wrote your review that night, and people waited at Sardi's for the reviews.
Mr. DZIEMIANOWICZ: Right. Right. Right. Those days are long gone. Yeah, no. So now, we're invited. Sometimes, we have a leisurely few days to consider and to write and - but you're right. There was a time when there was - all the critics would be in the room at the same time. They would rush back and do that. Now, we don't do that.
CONAN: We're talking with Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News, their theater critic, about "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
And Joe, we then have to get to the play itself. This is - well, vastly expensive. And everybody's heard about this one way or another. Does it live up to expectations?
Mr. DZIEMIANOWICZ: Well, the expectations have been pretty low. The hype surrounding the show as of today - the hype is all about - kind of the mishaps with the flying, will the Green Goblin get stuck? Is he going to hang over? Will he drop on you? Is an actor going to fall off the stage and go splat, God forbid? That is the hype, actually, and that actually is what's driving it. Because throughout the process and throughout the preview performances, which have been going on since November 28th - that's November 28th; that's not, that's not even recent.
CONAN: And previews...
Mr. DZIEMIANOWICZ: No one's saying that - you know, what was coming out was, wow, you know, accidents can happen. And I think that's what people are kind of coming to see. Will they see a smooth sailing, or is it going to be turbulence?
CONAN: Two-hundred twenty-five dollars to see it - it's a lot to pay for a demolition derby.
Mr. DZIEMIANOWICZ: That's right. That's right. Or bumper cars, you know, maybe you could, you know, go and get a cheaper thrill.
CONAN: The music by Bono and The Edge of U2, is that anything special?
Mr. DZIEMIANOWICZ: You know, to be fair, they're Broadway rookies. And writing for Broadway is a special art. You're doing more than just creating a song. What you're actually doing is nudging along character. You're driving a narrative. It's a lot to accomplish. Did they do that? Not really. What they provided was, you know, an agreeable background. A lot of the music, though, I think, comes and goes and doesn't stick. There was one anthem that I actually did like, called "Rise Above." I think it has a driving rhythm, and I thought it really worked. But as far as, is this a great score? No.
CONAN: Julie Taymor, the director, is no Broadway rookie.
Mr. DZIEMIANOWICZ: She is no Broadway rookie. She is thoroughly and firmly and forever on the Broadway map with "The Lion King." She is a pro, and this is a very different experience. You know, "The Lion King" - she changed Broadway with "The Lion King." And I think she may be changing Broadway with "Spider-Man," but in a completely different way.
CONAN: And there is an aspect of this that is - well, it's at least portrayed as one of the great spectaculars you will ever see. Is the flying, is the - are the animated, so to speak, aspect of this spectacular?
Mr. DZIEMIANOWICZ: You know, to be perfectly fair, spectacular, I think, is overreaching. I think by the time you see the Green Goblin come out and look like he's a hang glider minus the kite, or Spider-Man come out and quote-unquote fly - he actually looks like he's kind of standing up, and looks like a Heisman trophy throughout the whole thing, because he has to be carefully balanced for all the stuff to work right - it's actually - I think I called the show five out of 10 on the fun meter. And, you know, those first flying sequences are fun. They get a little repetitive because it's almost as if they're following the same flight plan, like you're landing a plane at the airport. So there's the - it becomes a little routinized, and a little less thrilling, as the evening goes on.
CONAN: And is this likely - well, it's been doing fairly well in previews. Do you think - I think maybe New York Magazine gave it lukewarm, but sort of positive. Everybody else was at worst - at best, rather, a lukewarm bad, and some were - described it as the worst thing ever.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. DZIEMIANOWICZ: Right.
CONAN: Is that going to hurt it?
Mr. DZIEMIANOWICZ: Well, you have to understand, too, that "Spider-Man" was smart. He's a, you know - he - the show actually opened in - started, not opened; that's the wrong word, as we all know. It started performances in late November, and there were no other new productions to compete with on Broadway. It was the new kid in town. It arrived in town wildly anticipated. This has been coming to Broadway; this should have opened a full year ago. So there was a lot of attention.
Should we be surprised of the capacity house? No. Is that going to continue? Probably not, because I think what happens is word of mouth spills out - not just from the critics, but from people who see the show. Is it something you have to see? Is it something you desperately want to see again? I hold out hope and I - in my report in the paper today, I aired on the side of giving them, if not the benefit of the doubt, I'm curious to see what five weeks of hard work will bring. But I don't know that the word of mouth is going to be such that it makes people - drives people to the theater.
CONAN: And is that gentlemen's agreement that said you don't publish 'til opening day, is that broken forever?
Mr. DZIEMIANOWICZ: Is it broken forever? I don't think so. As I said, "Spider-Man" became a unique - and I - is it a game-changer? I don't think so. I think it is a unique production. I think this is a unique set of circumstances. I can't foresee other critics saying oh, you know what? I'm going to review the first performance of the "Book of Mormon" because I want to be first. I'm going to review the second preview of "Catch Me If You Can" because I really want to - I want to get my name in the paper on that. I don't think that's what it's about. That's certainly not why I'm doing this. I think you try to be fair, but I think you also, as a critic, need to look out for your readership.
Mr. DZIEMIANOWICZ: These people are going to spend a lot of money to see a show, and I think that that's why this became something important for us to do.
CONAN: Mr. Joe Dziemianowicz, thank you very much for your time.
Mr. DZIEMIANOWICZ: OK, thanks.
CONAN: He reviews theater for the New York Daily News.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
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