Broadway's 'Spider-Man: Turn of the Dark' reviewed

July 17, 2011
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I wish I could tell you that the media’s cynical circus that reported on the creation, re-creation, and eventual launch of the Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” missed the show’s magical essence.

I wish that I could tell you that original director Julie Taymor (of “Lion King” fame) created something unwieldy but wonderful and that creative consultant Philip Wm. McKinley and writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, brought in to replace her, gave it shape and coherence.

I wish that I could tell you that the score by U2’s Bono and The Edge rocks in a way that Broadway usually doesn’t rock.

Barring all of that, I wish that I could tell you that the result is at least a guilty pleasure.

Unfortunately, I can’t do any of the above.

Instead, I take no pleasure in writing that “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” on stage—and above the stage—at the Foxwoods Theatre, is a sad, stilted event that crashes consistently and rarely flies.

Trying to dissect who’s responsible for what is probably beside the point. What has made it onstage feels like the creative folks were kids trying to build something out of a box of Lego, K’nex, Lincoln Logs, Mega Bloks and more, never paying attention to whether the pieces actually fit together. Worse, the result makes you wonder why anyone wanted to construct it in the first place.

Starting off promisingly with a beautiful but pointless weaving of a stage-filling tapestry, “Spider-Man” soon gives way to cliché-ridden high school scenes that make “Happy Days: The Musical” seem like the height of sophistication (low point: the beat-up-the-geek number “Bullying by Numbers”). Actors Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano are attractive, but given little or nothing to do as Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson except pretend to have obstacles standing between the obvious goo-goo-eyes they have for each other.

It’s no better once the action begins. The deliberately unstable set pieces drain the kick out of Parker’s bouncing-off-the-walls bit. Cartoon-but-not-comic-book gangsters make Spider-man’s early crime fighting seem silly. And exposition and more exposition proceeds before we get to lead villain Green Goblin (an at-least-lively Patrick Page, reminiscent of Jim Carrey in “The Mask”).  

It gets worse. Embarrassingly ineffectual sub-villains (including an inflatable dino-man who couldn’t scare kids at a backyard party) clutter the stage. Poor direction often makes set designs that might have been effective lose their impact (Why are J. Jonah Jameson and company standing on the side of the Chrysler Building?) And the score by pop stars Bono and the Edge only made me better appreciate the earlier theatrical effort of Paul Simon, whose musical “The Capeman” was an on-stage mess, but at least sounded great.

Who could have made this work musical? I left the theater wishing that Queen was still around, but even then musicalizing “Spider-Man” would be an up-building climb.

As to the overhead flying—yes, there’s a kick to having a human being land in front of you. But thanks to the undisguised harnesses, wires and hyper-cautious ushers, only in those directly overhead moments is there any brief sense that someone is flying (and, wait, isn’t our hero supposed to be swinging, not flying?). There’s never the illusion of actual fighting—or any tension as to the outcome. And am I the only one who thought the web spray had all the power of a kids’ 4th of July party popper?

With apologies to the show’s co-composer—“Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” has no edge. It’s a sub-Cirque would-be spectacle that bores rather than soars.

 

Your thoughts?

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  • Wow.
    Jumping on the bandwagon, are ya? I'd like you to create something half as creative as this broadway show.
    • bandwagon?
      Brad,
      Thanks for posting, but how is going into a show with an open mind and relaying my honest reaction "jumping on the bandwagon"? If you saw it, share your insight.
      Sincerely,
      Lou
    • Spider-man Rocks!!
      Having seen this show 4 times, I totally disagree with this review. "Spider-man Turn Off The Dark" is the most innovative show on Broadway! Music, acting, choreography, script, aerial stunts, are amazing. Come and see this fantastic show, and see how great it is yourself!!!!!
    • I didn't hate it...
      I didn't hate it when I saw Taymor's version a few months back and I walked out of the theater entertained. But... that was my expectation when I decided to see a musical based on Spiderman.

      Yes it could have been better but I don't think it was as bad as the critics make it out to be.
    • Quite a Quandary
      I'm stuck in an odd place with musicals like this. On one hand, I recognize that producers need to make blockbusters and want to sell to hordes of children. And I'm not opposed to introducing youth to the theatre. But I also want there to be a step up for these attendees. After all, once they've been pulled into the allure of theatre, they need to continue to climb to the best (or above sub-par) shows. If kids see this show and then want to make a habit of seeing Broadway musicals, I'm all for it. If kids see this show, then get disappointed because Les Miserables doesn't involve an aerial duel between Valjean and Javert, it will have been a sad waste.
    • Thanks Lou!!
      Lou - thank you for your honest review of the spider man wreck. You have given me great advice previously when I've asked for recommendations for Broadway and they have been spot on. I trust you on this one and next time I'm there - I'll avoid Spidey and head to see Pricilla (or whatever else you tell me).
    • more reviews
      Go to www.ibj.com/arts for more reviews, including Measure for Measure, Hair, Priscilla Queen of the Desert and, coming soon, Death Takes a Holiday, Catch Me If You Can, and more. Stay tuned.
      --Lou
    • Spiderman still not good
      It sounds like Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark has been little improved since I saw the sixth preview performance last December.

      It's a shame that the concept never lived up to the potential. Feel sorry for the investors since this is one show that it looks like will never be possible to take on the road.
    • Total Agreement
      Spiderman Turn it off, is a better title. I totally agree with the writer. We have seen that storyline before at the movie, nothing origional at all. No music that make you want to hum after the show. This musical couldnt decide what it wanted to be and in which time period it wanted to live. Yah, "Bulling by Numbers" WTH is that? Crazy bad show!
    • Spidey
      It's mutate and live! Rob. Mutate and live!
    • good review
      Queen did the music for the 1980 Flash Gordon film which was an absolute trashfest, but the film (and score) was ultimately seen as cheap and campy and now it lives on as a cult classic. I love U2's music but they can't do "camp" like Queen; their sound carries a lot of moodiness and heaviness, and a Broadway show should be fun. One way to make a 'Spiderman' work is to do musical-comedy and poke fun at the superhero genre as a whole, and throw in the aerial acrobatics for the kids.

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