When I heard they were doing a musical based on the famous comic book web-slinger, I was skeptical, but at least I thought to myself it could be very interesting to see how they could pull it off. Julie Taymor, Bono and The Edge were going to be involved. I admit, I was intrigued a bit, but again, I think it was mostly because of the names that were attached to it and they all had a great track record to take on such a huge project.
Fast foward a couple of years. Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark is currently playing in previews on Broadway. The reason? It has been continuously hitting several production and creative snags. Also, there have been several accidents involved with the show. Rewrites, recasts and various other changes in the show have been constantly going on. I don't think anyone these days hasn't heard of the many issues with putting this show up. With a whopping 65 million dollar budget, this is the most expensive Broadway show ever conceived. If you want to read more, as I don't want to spend this review talking about it forever, just Google "Spider-Man Musical Problems." I guarantee you'll find something worth reading. Also, the Wikipedia article is worth checking out. I for one can't help but admit that for all these reasons and more, I found myself buying a ticket and checking it out.
Bono and The Edge of U2 fame are responsible for the score for this show. Best known for their rocking and pounding music, U2 is one of the most popular and influential bands, proving that they still rock after 30 plus years. Julie Taymor, Glen Berger, and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa were responsible for writing the book and story for the show. Taymor, of course, is best known for her work on the staged musical of The Lion King, putting her on the map as one of the most imagery and scenery driven directors. Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark is based on the Marvel superhero of the same name. The story follows young Peter Parker as he is endowed with super spider powers after being bitten by a genetically altered spider. Struggling with the day-to-day problems of the average teenager, his relationship with his girl friend Mary-Jane, finding his place in the world around him and stopping the crazed Green Goblin, Peter finds his calling as a hero and as Spider-Man and tries to balance it all.
I have to say, that this show, every single bit of it, was a complete mess. The first obvious parts were of course the book and music. Taymor, Berger and Aguirre-Sacasa struggle to form some sort of story that is loosely based on the first movie that came out years ago. The story apparently went through several changes and you could tell that pieces of each person's ideas came together, but not in the best way. There was the introduction of Arachne, the character from Greek mythology who apparently represented a sort of guide for Peter. She was supposed to anyways, as she was terribly underused and was kind of shoe-horned into the story. Her addition neither took away nor gave something to the story. She was just there. Also, there were many elements of the original story of Spider-Man that were removed, that didn't necessarily effect the overall arch much, but to many die-hard comic book fans, it presented many problems. There were many plot elements that didn't make sense and it left you questioning the holes they made. The first act was rushed as Spider-Man had to make his debut. As for the music, U2’s Bono and The Edge are known for their pulsing and rocking songs that have been some of the biggest hits with the masses. This was not the case for this score. There was lots of power behind the music, but it had no substance. With unmemorable songs, this was another issue that plagued the production. I want to go to a show, walk out and hum the music because it should stick with the average theatre goer. I was not impressed by the music and I felt a bit let down, knowing the two's particular track record.
Taymor's initial direction is as expected. She clearly captures the story as well as she can, but combined with elaborate costumes, moving set pieces and big projection screens, I could only wonder how this production could look so cheap with such a huge price tag. It felt lazy and forced. I think at this point, everything on stage, between the stylized set pieces and over-the-top costuming for the villains, was doing it just to make it a statement. Granted, the city set pieces, moving walls and projection screens were quite impressive as a part of design concept but just didn't fit with this show. However, the high-flying wire work was really fun to watch. As Spider-Man swooped down from the balcony and over the audience, I got goose bumps and was really impressed. The frustrating thing of course was the fact that you'd have to pay a bit more to be a part of the "Flying Circle" area to have the action fly over your head. Being the balcony was nice, but you would catch only about a third of what was happening. At one point I realized that I was not actually watching a musical. At that moment, I remembered reading somewhere Taymor, The Edge and Bono described it as a rock opera/circus show. Clearly, I could see what they were going for, but it seemed rather ambitious combining all those different elements. If several things didn't sync up too well, it creates a messy vision. Perhaps changing the show into a more Cirque De Soliel show would be a much better idea. With high-flying acrobats and huge sets, it seems like the better direction
The performances of the actors were less than impressive. Reeve Carney, who pays the title hero, has the pipes, channeling a bit of Bono. However, he was clearly phoning it in. As his wire work was impressive, his actual performance was a bit dull. Jennifer Damiano, who just recently came off of Next To Normal, falls short as Mary Jane Watson. The chemistry between the two is no where to be seen, as both of them are clearly going through the motions. Patrick Page is probably the more active one of the three leads, as he plays the sprightly Norman Osborne well enough. When he transforms into the Green Goblin, he clearly enjoys hamming it up and has a particularly cheesy moment a la lounge singer when awaiting his final battle with Spider-Man. He has fun and makes his performance stand out. Everyone else in the cast is talented for sure and works their butts off to put on a show, but again, with the material, they can only go so far. Again, the actors pull of the aerial stunts well, but like the leads, everyone was going through the motions. Literally.
So there you have it. Spider-Man. I felt like I was a part of history in some ways. There is no denying that the show had some really interesting elements and some great aerial acrobatics. That was about it. When I went to the show in NY, the house was packed with families and tourists alike. The show will continue to sell but the question remains: Will it actually open? I didn't hate the show, but as you can see, I thought it was a complete mess, but I am glad I was a part of it. With giant sets, highflying moments and a sub par score and plot, Spider-Man stands out as a very unusual and confusing experience. The show will continue on and remain as a slice of