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Broadway Review

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

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Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
Photo Source: Jacob Cohn
What an improvement. The tangled plot threads that made the new musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" a sticky mess during its record-breaking preview period have been unraveled and woven into an exciting web of wonder.

As you may recall, back in February, after the show had delayed its opening night for the fourth time and racked up more than two months of performances, critics—myself included—rebelled and reviewed the comic-book spectacle. I found it convoluted yet salvageable. Julie Taymor's staging and the book she authored with Glen Berger were a weird amalgam of fanboy esoterica, feminist mythos, startling stage pictures, and thrilling aerial sequences, the last created by Daniel Ezralow. Taymor wasn't satisfied with making a Broadway version of a conventional summer blockbuster movie; she wanted to create a pop culture epic. You can't fault her endless imagination, but she forgot one of the most important elements in musical making: coherent storytelling. The biggest problem was the character Arachne, an extradimensional eight-legged goddess out to steal our hero's soul. Her story never made sense, and she threatened to usurp Spider-Man's rightful place as protagonist. There was also a distracting Geek Chorus (get it?) that seemed to be making the narrative up as the show went along.

Well, several more delayed openings and changes in creative personnel later, "Spider-Man" is finally ready to swing into action. Taymor was removed from the production, though she retains credits for original direction, mask design, and collaborating on the book. "The Boy From Oz" director and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus helmer Philip Wm. McKinley is listed as creative consultant, and playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who has also written several comic books, including "Spider-Man," was brought on to work with Berger on the script. The Geeks are gone, as is an onstage rock band. Arachne has been shifted from a domineering enigmatic menace to a peripheral spirit guide. The romance between Peter Parker, Spidey's teenage secret identity, and Mary Jane Watson, a charming aspiring actor, has been strengthened. In addition, Patrick Page's deliciously maniacal Green Goblin has been promoted to main villain. This bizarre version of the Grinch fuels the now-coherent plot, and his amazing airborne battle with Spidey atop and around the Chrysler Building is where it belongs—at the climax of the show rather than at the close of Act 1.

Taymor's best work remains, and she deserves credit for creating several memorable sequences. I particularly enjoyed "Bouncing Off the Walls," in which George Tsypin's comic book–inspired sets fly apart as Peter Parker joyfully discovers his new powers.

There are still some kinks. If this is a contemporary story, why does everyone at the Daily Bugle use typewriters and look like they just stepped out of the 1940s? (Eiko Ishioka's colorful costumes are otherwise on the money.) Bono and the Edge's rock score is still too generic, but at least Jonathan Deans' sound design has been refined so we can understand all of the lyrics.

In the title role, Reeve Carney intensely charts Peter Parker's journey from shy teenager to dynamic crusader. He also powerfully rocks his vocals, as does Jennifer Damiano as Peter's loving Mary Jane. T.V. Carpio makes for a seductively mysterious Arachne and even brings off her kooky insect costume. Veterans Michael Mulheren and Isabel Keating bring dimension to boisterous Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson and Peter's sweet Aunt May.

"Spider-Man" threatened to go down in history as one of Broadway's biggest flops. While it probably won't become one of the street's greatest smashes, it's now a fun family show that will entertain fans of both superheroes and showstoppers. Was it worth the wait? For this combination fanboy and show queen, definitely.

Presented by Michael Cohl & Jeremiah J. Harris, Land Line Productions, Hello Entertainment/David Garfinkle/Tony Adams, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Norton Herrick and Herrick Entertainment, Billy Rovzar & Fernando Rovzar, Stephen Bronfman, Jeffrey B. Hecktman, Omneity Entertainment/Richard G. Weinberg, James L. Nederlander, Terry Allen Kramer, S2BN Entertainment, Jam Theatricals, the Mayerson/Gould/Hauser/Tysoe Group, Patricia Lambrecht, and Paul McGuinness, by arrangement with Marvel Entertainment, at the Foxwoods Theatre, 213 W. 42nd St., NYC. Opened June 14 for an open run. Tue.–Thu., 7:30 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 8 p.m.; Wed., 1:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (No performances Wed., June 15.) (800) 745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com. Casting by Telsey + Company.

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