By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Broadway's most expensive and ridiculed musical, "Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark," suffered another round of crushing reviews on Wednesday, a day after its long-delayed official opening drew celebrities such as former president Bill Clinton and actor Robert De Niro.
The $70 million comic-book adaptation, featuring music by U2's Bono and the Edge, was lambasted earlier this year while playing in a record-breaking 180 previews as its producers struggled to overhaul the production.
While the play would take years to turn a profit, tourists and other intrigued theatergoers could keep it on Broadway far longer than usual for productions with such withering notices.
Technical problems had delayed the opening six times since it began previews last year, and the show was suspended at one point after a rash of on-stage injuries and bad publicity ultimately led to the departure of its iconoclastic director Julie Taymor.
Many critics said that while the show had changed dramatically from its initial run under Taymor, it was still hobbled by a weak plot and bad music.
New York magazine said the musical had "deteriorated from mindblowingly misbegotten carnival-of-the-damned to merely embarrassing dud."
And the New York Times said, "this singing comic book is no longer the ungodly, indecipherable mess it was in February. It's just a bore."
Somewhat embarrassingly for the high-profile rockers in one of the world's biggest bands, the music was uniformly panned.
"It's their mediocre score, as much as anything, that makes this third-rate entertainment," said the Hollywood Reporter, describing a couple of tunes as "shockingly inept."
Added New York magazine: "No amount of mulch or manure can cover up the music, which is, by far, the show's greatest weakness."
Some critics were kinder. USA Today said "the new Spider-Man is ... more in line with the winking musical adaptations of famous films and brands that have lined the theater district in recent years." The paper concluded, "it might just make it."
Even Clinton, hitherto unknown as a theater critic, jumped to its defense. In a statement he described the play as "fabulous."
The musical was originally due to open late last year. Aside from the numerous technical and creative challenges that stumped producers, a major cast member quit and the U.S. Department of Labor accused it of serious violations of workplace safety rules.
And in February, with the musical playing to packed houses for so many months, critics broke the customary embargo on running reviews before the official opening to deliver an initial round of blistering reviews.
But regardless of the latest reviews, the official opening still drew an A-list crowd. In addition to Clinton and De Niro, the audience included Taymor, Bono and The Edge, actors Matt Damon and Steve Martin, director Spike Lee, model Cindy Crawford and artist Jeff Koons.
The show features impressive stunts with "Spider-Man," played by Broadway newcomer Reeve Carney, often flying high above the audience into the top tiers and climaxing with a mid-air fight between Spider-Man and his enemy the Green Goblin. In previews the characters often got stuck mid-air.
The show's woes provided its writing staff with an opportunity to insert a few in-jokes.
"I'm a $65 million circus tragedy," the Green Goblin says at one point in the show. "Well, more like 75 million."
(Reporting by Christine Kearney, editing by XXXX XXXXX)