Why Did The New Yorker Break ‘Spider-Man’ Embargo?

Another week brings more bad news for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark! After the initial wave of bad reviews, led by the New York Times‘s Ben Brantley, a new review has dropped today by The New Yorker‘s John Lahr. The magazine’s review, which broke the oft-broken embargo for the not-yet-opened musical, was solicited by David Remnick, said John Lahr in an email to the Observer. “We generally stick to the embargoes except under exceptional circumstances of which this was one.”

What, besides the exorbitant length of the preview period, made this exceptional? Times-fueled crowd mentality, for one: “I felt that once the Times had reviewed it–and these ‘rules’ were invented by the Times to serve the Times–then it was up for grabs.” (The Times review ran on February 7, the date a New Yorker double issue went to press. This is the first issue that could contain a reaction to Brantley’s review, though neither Brantley nor the Times is mentioned.)

Lahr, who notes the tickets’ astronomical price in his negative review, has little faith in critics’ ability to dim Spider-Man‘s prospects: “[C]ritics are very low on the marketing research reports of what makes the paying customer go to a show. At this level of exposure–good or bad publicity–all works in favor of the house.” That doesn’t mean that people oughn’t listen to critics, though, as Lahr writes us that “any theatre-savvy person who’s seen the show will know that what’s wrong with it can’t really be fixed by a few more weeks of previews.” Those flaws include, per Lahr’s review, weak plotting and dour music, as well as “bearbaiting”-style risk that calls to mind the coverage of actors’ frequent injuries in the show on a New Yorker cover.

ddaddario@observer.com :: @DPD_