Several major theater critics, including Newsday's, broke tradition Tuesday and published reviews of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" before its March 15 opening night. They argued that Feb. 7, the fourth of several previously announced opening dates, was an appropriate time to review, especially since the musical has already had a near-record number of full-price preview performances.

Show spokesman Rick Miramontez disagreed with the decision, saying "Changes are still being made and any review that runs before the show is frozen is totally invalid." Yet while the reviews have been scathing - The New York Times and The Washington Post critics each called it among the worst musicals ever - industry observers say that may not matter to long-term success.

"The show will withstand the criticism," Playbill publisher Philip Birsh told Newsday. "It's a different level of offering that Broadway has seen before," he added, calling it a fusion of musical and Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics. "I believe [the producers'] goal is not to please the critics but to build a piece of entertainment that can transfer around the world."

Even here at home, observes Variety theater editor Gordon Cox, "It's a show that is maybe not aiming for the traditional Broadway audience, which is the audience that cares most about what critics think."

The show has been a hit so far, with its box office gross of $1,297,283 for the week ending Feb. 6 beating out Broadway leader "Wicked." This is partly because "Spider-Man" commands Broadway's second-highest average ticket price, $99.05, second only to "Jersey Boys" ($99.30). But the show also operated at a very high 84.8 percent capacity at the Foxwoods Theatre last week, and at 92.2 percent the week before.

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