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Big-budget Spider-Man musical turns off the critics

After five delays and nearly 70 preview performances, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark received its first wave of "official" reviews overnight from the nation's top theater critics -- many of whom went to great pains to point out that the $65-million musical was supposed to open on Monday, at least before the most recent postponement.

The results are perhaps predictable, if certainly not flattering. Words like "incoherent," "cheap" and "atrocious" are used, much to the production's dismay. (Comic Book Resources reviewed Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark last month, with Staff Writer Josh Wigler describing it as "awful.")

“The PILE-ON by the critics was ridiculous and uncalled for," show spokesman Rick Miramontez said in a statement to Entertainment Weekly. "Their actions are unprecedented and UNCOOL!”

"Unprecedented" likely refers to the publishing of reviews before the show's official opening on March 15, a baton Showbiz411's Roger Friedman -- a longtime friend and frequent defender of director Julie Taymor -- picked up when he described the move as an "ambush" in a post titled "Spider-Man Musical: Told Not To, the Critics Review it Anyway." That's the same Roger Friedman who, in 2009, downloaded and reviewed a copy of a stolen unfinished print of X-Men Origins: Wolverine weeks before the movie's opening.

Here's a roundup of some of the early reviews that reportedly left Spider-Man producer Norton Herrick "gobsmacked":

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: "This production should play up regularly and resonantly the promise that things could go wrong. Because only when things go wrong in this production does it feel remotely right — if, by right, one means entertaining. So keep the fear factor an active part of the show, guys, and stock the Foxwoods gift shops with souvenir crash helmets and T-shirts that say 'I saw Spider-Man and lived.' Otherwise, a more appropriate slogan would be “I saw Spider-Man and slept.”

Peter Marks, The Washington Post: "If you're going to spend $65 million and not end up with the best musical of all time, I suppose there's a perverse distinction in being one of the worst."

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: "A snowballing budget, broken bones, a concussion, multiple delays, rewrites ... and what do we get? An inconsistent, maddening show that’s equal parts exciting and atrocious."

Scott Brown, New York magazine: "It's by turns hyperstimulated, vivid, lurid, overeducated, underbaked, terrifying, confusing, distracted, ridiculously slick, shockingly clumsy, unmistakably monomaniacal and clinically bipolar."

Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: "So much emphasis has been placed on the technological hurdles, the notion that Spider-Man is trying things that have never been attempted before in a Broadway house. What sinks the show, however, has nothing to do with glitches in the special effects. To revise a handy little political catch phrase, 'It’s the storytelling, stupid.' And on that front, the failure rests squarely on Taymor’s run-amok direction."

Jason Zinoman, Slate.com: "Imagine the gall it takes to have Spider-Man wrestle a cheap-looking blow-up doll in the most expensive musical in history. Or to have an almost incoherent book so witless that what passes for a joke is a character misunderstanding the difference between 'free will' and Free Willy. Then there's the Bono-and-the-Edge anthem about shoes, and the more mundane issues such as inconsistencies of character (Peter Parker transforms from a nerd to a brooding hipster faster than he does from a man to a spider), of period (His Girl Friday or The Social Network?), and of style (comic books or Greek myth?)."

Steven Suskin, Variety: "Weaknesses lie with the book, music and lyrics, a kiss of death for most musicals; Taymor and her producers seem to think this a minor flaw, and initial box office returns suggest they might be right."

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: "... [M]ostly, Spider-Man is chaotic, dull and a little silly. And there’s nothing here half as catchy as the 1967 ABC cartoon theme tune."

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