The reviews are in. So what's next for "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark"?
Producers of the once trouble-plagued musical made good on their promise to right the $70-plus million ship, opening the reboot on time and happily watching the once-feuding creative team publicly reconcile.
Many didn't believe this day would come, certainly not after the multiple injuries to cast-members, the six delays in opening night and the audience's general befuddlement at the plot this winter.
A shake-up _ most notably in the firing of director Julie Taymor _ came after reviews by fed-up critics in February were, for the most part, vicious pans. Producers brought in a new team and shut down the show for three weeks to retool.
The critics returned and their new assessments Tuesday, while not raves, have grudgingly acknowledged an improvement. "A definite upgrade from the flailing behemoth on view in February," said The Washington Post. The Chicago Tribune said the new version is "a remarkable achievement for those who have toiled for coherence."
The Associated Press said, "It may not be the best thing in theater, but it is far from the worst show in Broadway history," while The New York Times said the show went from "the Hindenburg" to "just a bore."
What happens next to the show is dependent on a lot of things, but one thing is clear: Without a wave of critical cheers, it now needs positive word-of-mouth to keep the doors open and multiple visits from die-hard fans.
"I think it's going to be very interesting to watch," said Robyn Goodman, a Tony Award-winning producer of shows such as "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo," "American Idiot," "In the Heights" and "Avenue Q."
"I guess the question is, `Can they just skip over those reviews and get to the tourist population and continue to do the kind of numbers they're doing?'" she said. "Most musicals that overcome critics _ like `Wicked' _ have great word-of-mouth or get a target audience that just adores it."
Consistently strong weekly revenues are critical for the show to break even and to begin repaying investors. Last week, the show earned $1.2 million _ a little more than 60 percent of its $1.9 million potential. Though attendance was very high, it still needs more sales and must run for years at near-full capacity before it starts to dig itself out of debt.
"`Spider-Man' is going to have to be on that list of longest running shows if they are going to make it to recoupment," said Ken Davenport, a longtime Broadway and off-Broadway producer who is leading the upcoming Broadway revival of "Godspell."
When asked before opening what the next step was, lead producers Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris demurred. "Sometime late in the summer, hopefully we'll be doing great, and it will actually make sense for us to look at each other and say, `It's a hit. Now what?'" Cohl said.
Now what, indeed. By stabilizing the production, producers may ironically have taken away a selling point: Curiosity in the previous version of the show was often fueled by the vicarious thrill of anticipating accidents.
If interest peters out, it may make financial sense to move, but the show was built specifically for the 1,928-seat theater _ the largest on Broadway. A stripped-down version that tours might make financial sense, but would dilute the sense of spectacle the show is trying to cultivate. A permanent home in Vegas might make sense, but it would lose its Broadway cachet.
Retooling the show again _ a version 3.0, if you will _ is out of the question. Once a show officially opens on Broadway, it is considered frozen and no more tinkering is allowed. So, if the show, though reportedly improved, is now just OK, it will remain just OK.
The musical may also take a hit if the principal cast _ Reeve Carney as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Jennifer Damiano as Mary Jane Watson, T.V. Carpio as a spider-woman named Arachne and Patrick Page as the Green Goblin _ leave when their contracts are up in the fall, though Goodman says the "Spider-Man" show is less dependent on its actors.
"I don't think that show is about the cast," she said. "There are many, wonderful, talented people who can fly and sing at the same time. I don't think it's about the cast at all. It's about whether there's enough positive buzz for it to generate people wanting to see those guys flying around and hear Bono's music."
If the show closes in a year or two, it would be another black-eye for the producers and creative team, especially first-time musical writers Bono and The Edge, who helped ease out Taymor only to potentially fail at a second bite of the apple. The reputation of Taymor, whose version never actually made it on stage for an official opening, has already taken a hard hit.
Davenport, who has produced everything from "Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage" to the Broadway production of "Oleanna" starring Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles, suspects producers of "Spider-Man" always had a Plan B up their sleeves.
"I do think that they've always had other options in mind," he said. "I look forward to seeing how they roll out this mega-brand that they've spent so much money building. The Spider-Man story could be just beginning."
Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits