Arts Desk

Fare Assessment: Peter Marks Reviews Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

There are plenty of reasons for an arts critic to leave town—say, vacation. OK, OK, all critics should see what's animating the national conversation from time to time—it can broaden and inform their perspective. But sometimes it feels like The Washington Post's reviewers are spending a bit too much time consuming art in other cities, especially New York—this despite the Post's 2009 reorientation as a paper focused on politics and local news. With editorial budgets tight and plenty of in-town art that escapes the Post's eye, we offer this regular series, in which we determine how much of the Post's travel budget ought to have gone to an individual review. At one end of the budget spectrum: Acela. At the other: Hitchhiking.

Reviewer on the Road: WaPo chief theater critic Peter Marks, reviewing the accident-prone, much-delayed, headline-grabbing $65 million Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark in New York.

Invoice Argument: Shit, it's Spider-Man! In the age of the critic-proof mega-musical, this is the biggest ever—and involves talents like director Julie Taymor and U2's Bono and The Edge. It was national pop culture news even before its long string of accidents and delayed openings. And undoubtedly, many Washingtonians will venture to New York to see this thing. They ought to be warned, as Marks dutifully does, that Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is the one of the worst musicals of all time.

Budget Hawk: Several things. 1) Being the biggest musical of all time means it's also probably the most-reviewed musical of all time—this despite the fact that most theater-goers willing to shell out the gazillion dollars tickets to Spider-Man go for probably aren't interested in the opinions of stuffy theater critics; 2) it probably would've been too parochial, but Marks ignores the one D.C. hook here: that the casting of Patrick Page in the musical actually disrupted the programming of the Shakespeare Theatre; and 3) a decimating review should showcase critics at their most rhetorically nasty (read: the collected works of Anthony Lane), and Marks shorts his readers, I fear. He writes:

The 8-year-old boys in the audience might be able to key on the Cirque du Soleil-style stunts on wires and video-game graphic elements, and probably not worry too much that "Spider-Man" is a tangle of disjointed concepts, scenes and musical sequences that suggests its more appropriate home would be off a highway in Orlando. Come to think of it, the optimal audience might be non-English-speaking.

Pretty good, but I was hoping for far more (ahem) venom. Critics, like the rest of us, are plenty capable of Schadenfreude. See Ben Brantley's Spider-Man review, from yesterday.

The Verdict: Yeah, the Post totally had to weigh in on Spider-Man—even though its opinion and those of every other powerful critic in the country will do nothing to curtail the success of this beast. Marks gets to go, but he has to travel on a faulty Goblin Glider, and if the Post is wise enough to film that, I will happily give it a retweet.

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