Excessive coverage helped musical's buzz
In the coverage of Tuesday’s Tony announcements, a number of journalists wrote about a musical that received no nominations and wasn’t even eligible. Isn’t life ironic?“Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” is a phenom that sucked all the oxygen from every other show this season, even though it hasn’t officially opened. Here’s another irony: Some members of the media have relentlessly lamented this mega-sized curiosity — so much so that they created exactly the kind of buzz and excitement for the show that they were hoping to prevent. For example, the New York Post has run more than 80 stories centered on (or with prominent mentions of) “Spider-Man.” The New York Times ran twice that amount, including an amazing three stories leading the arts section. By comparison, “Book of Mormon,” one of the season’s runaway hits and leader of the Tony noms, has received a fraction of that attention — but the stories have all been centered on the show and its content, not on the backstage drama. Some other shows have been virtually ignored. Every aspect of “Spider-Man” has been scrupulously reported: the costs, the injuries, the delays, the creative wrangling. The reports were augmented by reviews in early February. A typical assessment: NYTimes’ Ben Brantley said it “is not only the most expensive musical ever to hit Broadway; it may also rank among the worst.” More than just a musical, “Spider-Man” became a rallying cry. Major studios are caught up in a comicbook and game sensibility (Candyland! Battleship!) in which Hollywood’s greatest creativity is focused on marketing, branding and cross-platform opportunities. Many Broadway lovers worried: Don’t let this mindset take over theater! The laments were also sending an unspoken message to Julie Taymor, Bono, the Edge and producer Michael Cohl: This simply isn’t the way we do things here. Hollywood is a small town, and Broadway is even smaller. There are “insiders” and “outsiders” and many feel Team Taymor falls into the latter category. Outsiders aren’t allowed to break so many rules. It certainly didn’t help that Taymor was once lionized for “The Lion King,” a show that has become such a mega-succe$$ — earning more than $4 billion from many international productions — that it became Exhibit A of Broadway’s “Disney-fication” and blatant global ambitions. Other productions have had troubled tryouts. (Read “Patti LuPone: A Memoir” for horror stories about “The Baker’s Wife.”) But “Spider-Man” was on a bigger scale and, crucially, the troubles occurred right under reporters’ noses, rather than out of town. The show became fodder for latenight comedy and New Yorker cartoons. Audiences who never thought about Broadway musicals (especially ones in previews!) became curious, then started to feel a connection with a show they’d never seen. Tourists felt an ownership of “Spider-Man” — and the Broadway League estimated that tourists comprised 63% of Broadway auds last season. New Yorkers in general and theater lovers in particular also formed opinions, mostly offended. In separate Manhattan conversations recently, the concierge at a hotel and a bookstore clerk recommended various shows, with each concluding, “But don’t see ‘Spider-Man’!” A producer said to me, “I don’t think a show like that belongs on Broadway.” None had seen it. But I saw it. At a performance in March, the show had three sequences that were brilliant, two others that were merely terrific, and several good songs. The problems were in the many scenes between those moments, and the reworking from Spidey Team 2.0 could make this a winner if they connect the dots properly. (The show resumes previews May 12, after a three-week hiatus for retooling.) For the record, the March performance got a standing ovation. But the hoopla was never about the show’s content or quality. It’s about what happens when creativity meets big-scale marketing. It’s also about small-town thinking (sure, it’s not typical Broadway fare, but neither are Kathy Griffin, John Leguizamo or “Rain”). And it’s about the media’s pack mentality, the disconnect between pundits and the public, and about the pervasive coverage of pop culture (Spidey! Charlie Sheen! The royal wedding! Donald Trump! So much more interesting than Libya or Japan!) For better or worse, the “Spider-Man” brouhaha is a microcosm of society today. Maybe someday someone can write a musical about it. And there you have it: Me shining a spotlight on a show that I contend shouldn’t be in the spotlight this week. As I said, life is ironic!
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