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

July 17, 2011

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.

 

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