I was listening to Joe Duffy on RTE Radio One last week holding forth on Bono and the Paycock when my thoughts drifted unbidden towards Broadway musicals.
Joe had been deluged with calls from neighbours of Bono out at Killiney complaining that the diminutive crooner had gone off gadding around the world leaving his pet peacock to flap around the swanky gardens squawking and screeching at all hours of day and night and driving the residents demented.
I thought for a moment about ‘phoning in myself and asking Joe why Bono didn’t come home and look after his peacock instead of tending to his turkey in New York.
The turkey is the musical “Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark” - music by Bono and his bald sidekick Edge - which opened on Broadway on June 14th - 18 months late, after three rewrites and five false starts. “The world has been waiting!” proclaimed hopeful/ironic billboards along the Great White Way. Turned out it wasn’t the world that was waiting, but the critics, sharpening their knives.
Said one: “It was worth waiting to get it right. This is a show to be proud of.”
But that was Bono.
Terry Teachout of the “Wall Street Journal”, on the other hand, declared that, “Not only are the songs forgettable, but they never succeed in generating any dramatic momentum - all they do is get louder.”
David Rooney of “The Hollywood Reporter” thought the show “terminally clunky.”
Ben Brantley of the “New York Times” reckoned that, as a result of the series of revamps, Spidey had “improved from jaw-dropping badness to mere mediocrity.”
“Entertainment Weekly’s” Thom Geier: “An unsatisfying meal, like one of mom’s end-of-the-week casseroles made of leftovers she couldn’t bear to toss out.”
Bill Clinton said that he didn’t care what the critic said. “I had a fabulous night”. But then, what would you expect but goo from the blubbery lips of the pudgy perjurer.
Spidey the musical had been beset by difficulties from the outset. Making a song-and-dance of the story of New York high school science whizz-kid Peter Parker being bitten by a dying radioactive spider and instantly acquiring arachnidal strength and agility proportionate to body size was never going to be a doddle. Add in the existential darkness of the character and the complexity of the story-lines developed by Marvel Comics’ presiding genius Stan Lee, and this was always destined to be daunting project.
The project was 10 years old and going nowhere when, in 2008, somebody had the genius idea of abandoning the existing score and inviting the U2 pair to write a new set of songs. Surely this would ensure a box-office success? Bono was by now such an elevated person he could name the Pope and some of the planet’s most prominent genocidal maniacs among his close friends. Even Nobel Prize-winning poets with the benefit of a St. Columb’s education were to be seen flaunting their back-stage passes at his recitals. Anyone suggesting that Bono was a bit of a wind-bag or hinting that U2’s songs weren’t very good any more could find themselves drowning in a deluge of denunciation.
Anyway. Once Bono and Edge were on board for the Spidey show, what could possibly go wrong?
More or less everything. The show’s first producer, Tony Adams - he of “The Pink Panther” movies - had a heart attack and died at the age of 52. Then a number of cast members suffered injury as the technology enabling actors to fly around the auditorium proved less than reliable. One stunt-man plummeted 40 feet from the ceiling and was carried to hospital gravely ill. Original stars Evan Rachel Wood and Alan Cumming pulled out on account of the delays, which, naturally, led to further delays, and bigger budget short-falls.
Opening night, originally set for February 18th, 2010, was moved to December 21th, then pushed back again to January 11th, then to February 7th, then March 15th and finally to June 14th.
On June 15th came reviews which could have sunk the Titanic.
But Spidey hasn’t quite gone under. Yet.
This Spider may not be able to spin a web but his PR people can spin a yarn. Take the review of the highly insightful and (in New York) hugely influential Michael Musto of “Village Voice” - a self-incriminated fan of U2 and admirer of Bono. Having reviewed the show the week before last, Musto went on last week to review the review:
“You’ll remember my mixed to negative review of Broadway’s troubled ‘Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark’ .
“Guess what? It got quoted in the ads!
“Guess what? They made it sound like a rave!
“The show’s promotional materials quote me saying ‘Spectacular and thrilling’ - but while I did use those words, they were hardly in the same sentence and it would be impossible to accurately quote them without a lot of dot-dot-dots in between.
“My fuller, more accurate quotes were: ‘Spectacular and dull at the same time’ and ‘Simultaneously thrilling and yawn inducing.’
“Just like someone swooped in and edited the show itself, the Spidey team has taken a creative hatchet to the reviews too.
“And it’s simultaneously nervy and appalling.”
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