Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark is happening. It might be happening on a stage right this very moment, actually. You know, if you’re reading this between 8:00 and 11:00pm EST on a Wednesday-Sunday night.
The point is, it’s here. Finally. And it may not be going away any time soon.
But what does this mean, dear theater-lover, to the art form you love best? Is this awesome or awful? Below…some reasons it’s kind of both.
People are talking.
And not just people like Broadway producers and the people in your high school band. The conversation about Spider-Man is on overdrive, and it’s everywhere. The Times, your beauty salon. The chatter has gone global, and that’s good for Broadway.
People are buying tickets.
And in a season where Broadway shows – even critically acclaimed, well-funded, smartly marketed ones – are struggling with the whole ticket thing, Spider-Man is a ticket-selling machine. How many tickets? After the first preview, it was a million dollars worth in 24 hours. That’s a year and a half of sold-out performances. When most of Broadway is measuring success as a year and a half of half-empty houses, that’s an amazing stat, and one that sounds downright healthy in tough economic times.
It’s a meeting of smart, successful people.
When the marquee says Bono and Julie Taymor, it sends a pretty clear message that Broadway is an important place to be as an entertainer, and not just the movieplexes and Wembley stadiums of the world.
The show is the story, not the star.
Who’s starring in Spider-Man? Who cares. Reeve Carney is cute but no one has any clue who he is and Jen Damiano, though famous among oversensitive theater fangirls, is a nonentity. Alan Cumming, Jim Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood? This show is so big, and its themes and characters so familiar, that no one, especially not Julie Taymor, even needed them.
Blockbuster Mentality sucks.
Sure, we all want our shows to be big-ass hits. We want them to rake in a zillion dollars and stay open for years and top the gross charts every week. But going into something like this—creating art—with that mentality is a frightening prospect. It puts everything but the almighty dollar in a distant second or third. And it breeds more of the same. Blockbusters for the sake of blockbusters. What happens, then, to artistic merit? Experimentation? Intimacy?
The show is the star AND the story.
Yes. Spider-Man sold a million dollars in tickets after its first (reportedly disastrous) preview, and that’s awesome. The Great White Way needs the cash. But we all know the show itself didn’t sell those tickets. The spectacle sold all those tickets—and not the one that’s happening on stage. There is a circus of hype drowning out the actual musical, here. Shouldn’t the show we’re all buying tickets to be on stage, and not off?
We all love a scandal, but…
Almost no one loves a scandal as much as The Craptacular. We giggle with glee every time we think about how awesome it was to be able to write about a BJ in the audience an American Idiot (hint: it wasn’t Billie Joe). But the sensationalized disaster over at the Foxwoods Theater is getting so much press coverage the embargo may as well be an invitation. That coverage has lead to millions of dollars in ticket sales for a show that is essentially unfinished. The infusion of cash on Broadway may be much-needed, but what kind of standard is being set here? Do you need to drop people out of the sky inside your theater to get attention? Spend more money than the GDP of several developing nations combined? Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and The Scottsboro Boys, two intelligent, well-reviewed shows with smaller budgets and shallower pockets didn’t stand a chance in this season of Spider-Man—of Conan O’Brien parodies and front-page Times stories—and looking back, it’s easy to see why those shows can’t compete. It also happens to be terrifying.