Like Spider-Man swinging from building to building across the New York skyline, his namesake musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, has lurched from headline to ominous headline. Broken bones. An SNL parody. Preview performances marred by glitches and catcalls. In the fourth and most serious accident, a cast member was injured after a twenty-foot-plus plummet. Spider-Man has gone from a $65 million punch-line-in-waiting to a kind of malevolent machine that runs on cash and spews out tabloid fodder. It’s now less a Broadway show than an amusement-park thrill ride: See the clattering catastrophe! You never know what will go wrong next!
All of which is no doubt terrifying to its producers, who have pushed back its official opening (yet again) to February 7 and spent the days before Christmas batting down a rumor that the show had gone on indefinite hiatus. Yet there’s a perverse upside to these continuing calamities. Spider-Man has become a hot ticket for rubberneckers. Tamron Hall, guest-hosting on Today, blurted, “I’d love to see the show,” after a segment on last week’s incident, and she’s not alone. “I hope no one else gets hurt,” a theatergoer told the Post, “but it is part of the allure of going.” Told prior to the performance that it might be halted by technical problems, audiences have cheered, then applauded stoppages (when they didn’t involve falling bodies). It’s sort of what they came to see, after all.
Along the way, the whole Spider-Man saga has evolved into something new and fascinating: a hyperentertaining reality show about a Broadway fiasco, playing to a wide and rapt audience and unfolding, 24/7, in real time. Until recently, this brand of metaspectacle would not have been possible or even conceivable. But reality TV has given us a template for this experience, and technology has given us the means to collectively construct it. The former, as a genre, is expertly built around carefully orchestrated disasters, whether composed of desert-island deprivation or contrived dustups between combustible housemates. As for technology, who wasn’t drawn in by the tweet from the show’s star, Natalie Mendoza (who has herself sustained a concussion), after the most recent accident? “Please pray with me for my friend Chris … A light in my heart went dim tonight.” This was followed up by angry online protests from various Broadway actors, including one from Adam Pascal on Facebook that denounced the show as a “steaming pile of actor crippling shit.”
Meanwhile, we speculate feverishly as to the saga’s eventual climax. Can director Julie Taymor and her team make the safety fixes regulators are ordering without dulling an already muddy plot? Will, heaven forbid, some darker tragedy strike? Or will it somehow finally premiere to raves and record attendance, a redemptive tale, à la Avatar, of hubristic persistence and artistic bravado?
Barring a miracle, the show seems unlikely to recoup its costs (its technical requirements and safety considerations will make touring the show a whole other headache). The way things have been going, by the time you read this, it may have been announced that it will never officially open. But even so, its creators can take some solace in the fact that they have already mounted the most fantastic show of the season. Whether or not you actually get the chance to see Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, it’s still been more gripping than any Broadway production in years.