Jumping the opening night gun: 'Spider-Man' and beyond

February 8, 2011
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Technically, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" doesn't open until March.

But the New York Times, the L.A. Times, the Washington Post, and other papers that still have full-time theater critics have chimed in with opinions (mostly really, really negative ones) about the most expensive show ever on Broadway.

Why did they jump the opening night gun, buy their own seats, and put their thoughts in print?

Because the show has had its opening night delayed so many times.

Because the producers of "Spider-Man" have been charging full tickets prices for months. It's been topping "Wicked" as the top-grossing show in New York.

And because we live in an Internet-connected world where, it seems, the non-paid critics have been commenting for weeks. Why should the newspapers be left behind?

Some background: Most theater productions have a preview period, an official opening night, and then run (largely) in a "locked" position. Opening night is supposed to be when major changes stop happening and the show is what it is. See a preview and you may see a number that doesn't end up in the actual show, a monologue that will later be trimmed, a stubborn set piece removed or a performer who later gets replaced.

In regional theaters (the Indiana Repertory Theatre, for instance), the preview period is usually just a few performances. This gives a chance for the company to work out any minor glitches before the critics pay a visit.

The tradition is that opening night is review night--although critics are sometimes invited to one of the final previews in order to give them time to have a review written in time for the piece to appear in the papers the morning after a show opens.

As a reviewer, I will usually go to opening night or later.

When scheduling is an issue, I'll sometimes request the chance to go to a preview (If opening night is a Thursday, I can't get a review in the Monday IBJ because of its production schedule). If a theater company believes a show is ready, it will grant the request. If not, no hard feelings at all.  My preference, locally, is to go a little later, since tight rehearsal times often mean richer performances later in the run.

The case of "Spider-Man" is a tricky one, leaving me to wonder what I would do if I were writing for a paper that regularly covered Broadway theater.

I understand the desire of the critics to chime in. I understand the desire of readers to know what's going on at the Foxwoods Theatre. And I'd be chomping at the bit to get into that theater to experience the show for myself and then think about it in print.

But I also know that the "Spider-Man" production team is still tweaking the show. It isn't locked yet. And so the comments made in the papers about a performance the happened last week won't necessarily reflect the show as it will appear on opening night and beyond.

The solution, as I see it, is to run the in-progress review now and then replace it/update it with a review from opening night.

My questions to you:

Were the critics fair in commenting on the show before the producers say its ready?

And, of course, are you interested in seeing "Spider Man" on--and above--stage?

 

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  • Well....
    Based on the lines I saw in NYC a couple weeks ago, no one was listening to the critics. Sold out and a 2 1/2 block line just to get into the theatre. We opted for American Idiot (AWESOME performances)!! Enjoyed it tremendously. Heard that this week, Melissa Etheridge is playing one of the leads and then it goes back to Billy from Green Day. That would have been interesting to see!!
  • It's In Previews
    I was fortunate to be able to get a "surge" ticket for a partially obstructed seat for Spiderman's eighth preview performance in early December.

    I came away with a comment shared by others that night, that the second act needed a lot of work. It was slow, pladding and unimaginative by comparison to Act 1.

    As for reviews, your suggestion of running in-progress reviews and then one after opening night is logical.

    The show is not only in previews, because of the technical complexities it never had a chance to go through the out-of-town refining process that other shows do.

    I'm sure the show that I saw two months ago is quite different now, especially the second act.

    I look forward to reading the opening night reviews and perhaps seeing the show again after it opens.

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