Jenn Damiano/8 Legged Productions, LLC
Jenn Damiano/8 Legged Productions, LLC
After a record-breaking six months of previews during which this $70 million tuner suffered repeated delays, major technical snafus, dangerous falls that injured several castmembers and early reviews so bad Spidey went into hiding as producers plotted a revamp, the curtain for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark finally went up on Tuesday.
So how is everyone's friendly neighborhood webslinger after the recent makeover? After attending last weekend's performance for the press, we've come up with the five best—and worst—things about Spider-Man 2.0
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
1. The Beauty of Low Expectations: Before the Julie Taymor-directed production with music by U2's Bono and The Edge shut down for a three-week overhaul in April, the best that could be said about it was that people looked forward to attending to see what might go wrong. Well, with the firing of the Tony-winning helmer previously best known for shepherding The Lion King to the stage, producers signaled they heard the criticism loud and clear. They brought in director Philip William McKinley as a "creative consultant," hired comic book writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacada to retool the story, and got Bono and the Edge to compose a new song. Heck, given the universal critical loathing from critics, Spidey couldn't do any worse. So what's the verdict with 2.0? While Bono and company may have been the butt of many a Tony joke this past Sunday (six, by host Neil Patrick Harris' count), now that the show is finally frozen, they've managed to salvage their superhero from laughingstock status, and just might even get the last laugh at the box office.
2. The Story Is Streamlined: Chalk the resurrection up to a stronger, less convoluted story. The revamp ditched the "Arachne (T.V. Carpio) as mythical mentor turned villain" plot that had so confused reviewers and audiences alike. Instead of Spider-Man defeating Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Patrick Page) at the end of Act 1 and battling the eight-legged sexpot in Act 2, Arachne has been scaled back to her proper role as spiritual guide who gives Peter Parker (Reeve Carney) his costume and words of wisdom ("With great power comes great responsibility"). In the rewrite, Spidey's foe is now strictly the Green Goblin and his minion of supervillains, the Sinister Six; the new plot delves deeper into our young hero's relationship with sweetie Mary Jane Watson (Jennifer Damiano); and mercifully, it jettisons the unfunny "Geek Chorus" featuring fanboys commenting on the action.
3. High-Flying Theatrics: For all the initial problems, the aerial work—including two new sequences added during the hiatus—seemed to have found their footing and dazzle. The climactic aerial duel between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin amidst a vertigo-inducing set of skyscrapers was exhilarating, proving that for all the previously awful punny headlines, Spider-Man still delivers good old-fashioned thrills, especially since there's not a bad seat in the house.
4. Speaking of Sets... The web-like, colorful production design continues to amaze with various 2-D and 3-D set pieces continually spinning, flipping and adding to the spectacle, along with the occasional appearance of a giant video wall apparently meant to jog you to attention.
5. More Green Goblin = More Fun! With more stage time, Page gets to ham it up more, with particular relish in Act 2's opening tehcno-infused number, "A Freak Like Me Needs Company." There's also a pretty funny moment involving the Goblin trying to navigate the Daily Bugle's automated phone system. The 49-year-old thesp may be the best thing about this production.
1. Did We Mention There's Music? It's a musical but, sad to say, the worst thing about Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is the music and lyrics by the Irish rockers, Broadway neophytes who doubtless are feeling their comeuppance about now. We'll try not to pile on, but what good is a musical if most of the music seems incidental? There are barely any showstoppers here save "The Boy Falls From the Sky," which itself sounds like B-grade U2 circa the band's mid-'90s era, "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me," from Batman Forever. Memorable hooks are few, and there's plenty of bombast to go around ("Bullying by Numbers" comes to mind). Though the pulsating disco funk of "A Freak Like Me Needs Company," sung by the Green Goblin, and Arachne's ballad, "Turn Off the Dark," are notable standouts.
2. High School Still Sucks: Evil mutants, no problem. High school jerkoffs named Flash, well that's another matter. While the story is much more coherent, there's little the creative team can do with the cheesiness of watching Parker get bullied at Midtown High. But once you make it through these perfunctory plot points early on and Peter gets bitten by Osborn's genetically engineered spider and gains his extraordinary wall-crawling powers, things start to pick up thankfully.
3. What Time Period Are We In Again? Given Taymor's inattention to—or just willful not caring about—crafting a sensible story at the outset, Spider-Man has a habit of jarring the audience with sloppy anachronisms, jumping from 1960s-era secretaries hammering away on typewriters in one scene to Facebook references in the next.
4. Now About Those Sets: As cool as 2.0's various web-inspired designs are, the enormous sets often overwhelmed the actors and their performances (save Page).
5. Anything Goes It's Not: OK, let's face it. This isn't a Rogers & Hammerstein or Cole Porter musical, we know, but couldn't they have worked on the choreography? With the exception of the aerial sequences and some Spidey vs. Green Goblin showdowns, much of what passes for "fighting" feels like someone took their inspiration from The Star Wars Kid—see the high school bullying scene noted above. Apparently, bringing in a new choreographer to make additions hasn't helped. And memo to producers: Can we please lose the Bluetooth mics you've forced your stars to wear? Not only is it distracting, it's tacky.
All in all, word of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark's imminent demise is overblown and greatly exaggerated, no doubt by critics and industry insiders still peeved about the 180 or so previews it took before taking flight. But now that's it's had time to work out all the kinks (minus an out-of-town run remember), it's not nearly as bad as some other Broadway tuners we could think of (we're looking at you, American Idiot—yes, really—and Baby It's You). Love it, hate it, Spider-Man still remains a Broadway "experience" that will continue to guarantee strong ticket sales to come.
Just don't forget to bring a helmet.