It’s probably unnecessary to rehash the many technical problems that Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark encountered on its maiden Broadway voyage. Actors were injured. Creators were fired. Early reviews were harsh.
Now, almost one year after it began previews at the Foxwoods Theatre, how does the mega-musical hold up? Is the word on the street accurate? Does this Spidey show really fly?
I’m giddy to report that the overhaul worked: Spider-Man is a physically enrapturing show that features death-defying stunts, stunning visuals and a fairly enjoyable storyline. The cast, led by Reeve Carney as Peter Parker, is hard-working and likable. The show, dare I say, is a strong contender for best new musical of the season (granted, there are not too many contenders on the Great White Way).
Not everything is perfect. Even though the visuals are impressive (and that facet needs to be attributed to both original director Julie Taymor and savior Philip Wm. McKinley), the songs are still the weakest part of the show. Bono and The Edge straddle the line between rock concert and musical theater, seemingly never comfortable with either extreme.
Falling flat would be one thing (and I hesitate to use that wording when describing Spider-Man), but these songs blast into the inner eardrum with reckless abandon. With the amps turned up and the beats thumping along, it’s difficult to hear the lyrics and even more difficult to tap one’s toes to the rhythms. From “Behold and Wonder” to “Bullying By Numbers” to “Bouncing Off the Walls,” each song comes and goes without leaving much of a footprint.
Of the few successful tunes, “A Freak Like Me Needs Company,” which is an added ditty for the Green Goblin (Patrick Page), is a nice entry. I also enjoyed “Boy Falls From the Sky,” the 11th-hour number for Carney.
Where the improvements lie are in the storytelling. The Green Goblin rightfully takes center stage as the main villain. The ultimate battle between Spider-Man and his arch-nemesis is the show’s spectactular finale. Those audience members who viewed a performance during the musical’s gestation period probably saw Goblin kick the bucket at the end of Act I. Not anymore.
The role of Arachne (T.V. Carpio) has also been smartly streamlined into a digestible character. The goddess now serves as a voice in Parker’s head, rather than a dueling spider with a penchant for buying shoes (let’s not go there).
Besides Carney, Jennifer Damiano is sweet in all the right places for Mary Jane Watson. However, she still feels tertiary to Spider-Man’s evolution.
Carpio has come along way with her character and probably is the best singer of the cast.
Page has the most fun on the voluminous stage of the Foxwoods Theatre and probably will be a shoo-in for a Tony nomination. He’s campy and larger than life; essentially, he’s an actor (and character) who knows the endless boundaries of theater. At the recent performance I watched, Page had the night off and instead the audience was treated to the Broadway debut of Timothy Warmen, who was similarly excellent in the role.
There’s also an enjoyment to Michael Mulheren’s spot-on portrayal of J. Jonah Jameson, the newspaper editor with an unhealthy obsession for exaggerating the news of the day.
The plot continues to be an origins story, showcasing Parker’s high school geekdom and eventual morphing into Spider-Man. From there on out it’s the usual gift/curse debate that should strike a familiar chord for any reader of comic books.
The flying is still the most wondrous aspect of the two-hour-30-minute production. The first time I saw Spider-Man in February of this year, the show had to stop so the flying actors could better position themselves mid-air. This time, the musical went off without a hitch, and the results attain that rare awe-inspiring quotient that is usually relegated to the Cirque du Soleil world.
If you have your choice of seats, consider the middle orchestra section or the flying circle. Spider-Man and Green Goblin will likely fly inches from your head, so close you can almost taste the danger.By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
Original direction by Julie Taymor
Directed by Philip Wm. McKinley
Music and lyrics by Bono and The Edge
Book by Taymor, Glen Berger and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Choreography and aerial choreography by Daniel Ezralow
Additional choreography by Chase Brock
Starring Reeve Carney, Jennifer Damiano, T.V. Carpio and Patrick Page
Playing at the Foxwoods Theatre at 213 W. 42nd St. in New York City.
Click here for more information. Tickets start at $65.
Running time: 150 minutes