Should the critics have reviewed Spiderman?

I don’t know about what happened at your home, but as soon as that first review of Spider-Man hit the ‘web’ Monday night, my phone started ringing, my twitter started tweeting, and things I didn’t even know I owned started buzzing.

It was a social media cyclone.

And unfortunately for Spider-Man, that cyclone did some serious damage.

But the big question on everyone’s tweets was not how a $65 million dollar musical got such bad reviews, but should the critics have thrown their stones now, or should they have waited?

There has always been a gentleman’s agreement in the theater that reviewers don’t come until they are invited.  And that agreement has held up over the years, except for a few instances, mostly involving high profile out-of-town productions.

But not this time.

Why?

Well, come on Spider-Man, you’ve got super-human powers.  Surely, you had to see this coming.  You’ve been in previews longer than it takes an actual spider to spin a web.  Did you expect them to wait much longer?  Especially with rumors circulating that you were never going to open, and especially since the business you were doing didn’t seem to incentivize you to open any sooner.  When you’re doing 1.2+ million, who cares if you’re open or not, right?

Well, the critics do.

And Monday, they had enough.

And I can’t blame them.

I give them a lot of credit, actually.  Instead of just a free-for-all of reviews starting to come out randomly, they obviously got together and orchestrated this release together.  It was a calculated strike (which is the kind that does the most damage).  And the reviews came the day after the show was last supposed to open, which is a logical, rational, and defensible date to use.

So, good for them.

If I was a Producer, I might not like it, but I had to expect it (and evident by the typical post-opening radio spots and other media that ran this morning, these Producers did expect it).

All that said, you know what the real question I was asking after I read the reviews?

It wasn’t how a $65 million dollar musical could get such bad reviews.

It wasn’t whether or not they should have been reviewed it or not.

It was, “Will the reviews matter?”

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Superhero spotted on 42nd Street.

Well, it happened.

After years of speculation and millions and millions of dollars, it finally happened.

Spider-Man opened last night on Broadway.

You’re probably thinking I got that last sentence wrong.  That I should have said Spider-Man started previews last night.

But with the amount of ink from new and old media the show got last night and this morning, you might as well call it opened.

The chat boards lit up during the show last night (I bet all of the sites saw a surge in traffic), as did Twitter and the blogosphere.  The traditional media caught up this morning, with Spidey snagging the front page of the NY Post (right out of one of those scenes from a super hero movie where the papers hit the streets with a headline that screams, “Spider-Man saves the day!”) as well articles in the NY Times, The Journal, and many, many others.

And while the big publications aren’t reviewing the show, because they “can’t”, they are letting audience members do it for them, with quotes like “parts of it were really exciting” and “the story-telling is really unclear.”

Fair?  Unfair?

As a Producer, I might be frustrated with any negative coverage judging a first preview before my cake was fully cooked.  But when you build the biggest baked good in the world, you gotta expect it.

And hey – you can always take solace in the fact that what these publications are doing, without knowing it, is putting another nail in their own reviewers’ coffins.  By putting so much attention on the show up front, many audience members will have made up their minds by the time the reviews come out.  (When My First Time had a feature article in the NY Times, I sold soooo many more tickets than I sold when the review came out – and a bunch of people called me and congratulated me on the “review”.)

But I will say this to the press, and to all the chatters out there that have been sharpening their claws for the past several weeks . . . write what you will.  But remember, what they are doing down there is unprecedented.  They are building the musical version of the Great Wall of China.  (Which, by the way, I’m sure had a bunch of cost overruns and was also way behind schedule).

More important that precedent, is that they are employing an awful lot of people.

We should all be pulling for their success.  Explorers of uncharted territory may not always find what they are looking for (remember what Columbus was looking for), and many die in the process, but they always stumble upon something which provides new opportunities for all the rest of us.

Stay the course, Spidey.  Some of us are rooting for ya.

Now the big question is . . . will they be publishing their grosses???

Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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