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March 25, 2011

Are "Spider-Man" Producers Geniuses?

Spider-Man on Broadway - Official Site.jpgHow many Broadway shows got stories about them in the New York Times this week? Several, of course. But none got more than "Spider-Man", which had no fewer than nine stories in the Times this week, capped by two today. Not bad for a show that hasn't even officially opened. 

And the money ain't bad either. The Spidey box office is tingling, in previews beating most shows that have officially opened. This despite rafts of terrible reviews. This despite firing the principal artistic force behind the production and some of her lieutenants. This despite rewriting major plot points even as the old show is still playing. This despite announcing things are so bad that performances will close down for a few weeks to retool. 

It's the costliest show in Broadway history. Maybe it won't ever earn back its investment. But this endless season of previews surely sets new records for a show that hasn't opened. 

When Bill Clinton was president, his staff coined the term "permanent campaign" as a style of governing that treated everything the administration did as an audition for another term. 

So now we have the "permanent preview." It makes a joke out of the idea that previews are a finite trial to work out the kinks for the "real" show. Or does it? If the show doesn't work and producers continue to tinker with (or massively re-conceive) it, then technically the show still is in its gestation period. 

In not officially opening, the show doesn't have to put everything on the line. In not being set, reviews don't stick because the show you saw yesterday is not the show others will see tomorrow. The permanent preview inoculates this show from the final verdicts of reviews. It's an odyssey that is apparently so compelling that people are willing to pay high ticket prices to see. 

So an official opening (if it ever happens) - its "publishing" date - is the point the show will presumably be set and producers will stop tinkering with its innards.

But why go there? Especially if the backstage stories are compelling and box office is already good. A publish date means reviews will stick, the backstage stories will (probably) be done, and the box office could tank. Better to keep up the backstage drama while the onstage product isn't working and get the audience to pay to watch. Pure genius. 
March 25, 2011 3:47 PM | | Comments (1)

1 Comments

The "preview game" is unique to New York, and perhaps the Spidey crew is taking to extremes. When I was the dramaturg at the Milwaukee Rep, I would talk to people at New York theaters--non-profits even--who spoke of previews as a chance to collect some box office revenue before the reviews came out. At The Rep, previews were the same for every show--two performances. Their purpose was to allow the actors to acclimate to an audience--timing, reactions, etc. There is no legitimate "theatrical" reason to have more than a few previews. You don't need an audience in the house to figure out why a cable broke and sent an "actor" flying into the wings. But it's nice to have 1200 paying customers to help build a new rigging apparatus (and perhaps pay for the actor's medical bills).

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