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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Foxwoods Theatre


  Patrick Page and Reeve Carney/ Ph: Jacob Cohl

Has any musical in the history of Broadway had a more difficult birth than Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark? None comes readily to mind even from a longtime rialto chronicler like myself. As you are probably aware, Spider-Man is a musical version of the popular Marvel comic book hero, created in 1963, from which there was a series of hit movies beginning in 2002 directed by Sam Raimi.

Basically Spider-Man tells the story of a nerdy Queens high school student Peter Parker (Reed Carney) who on a school trip to a science fair gets bitten by a radioactive spider, giving him arachnid powers that allow him to fly miles in the air, attach himself to buildings and shoot spidery webs from his wrists. Peter lives with his Aunt May (Isabel Keating) and Uncle Ben (Ken Marks). His Uncle’s senseless murder by a neighborhood thug causes Peter to employ his newfound superhero powers to avenge his Uncle’s death and subsequently launches him on a more lofty mission to rid the world of all bullies and thieves.

Several years ago director Julie Taymor, who turned Disney’s The Lion King movie into a successful worldwide theatrical franchise, was hired to work her magic on Spider-Man. Irish pop stars Bono and The Edge of U2 fame came on board to compose the score, and investors raised an unbelievable $65 million to $75 million dollars to capitalize the endeavor, making this the most expensive show to ever hit Broadway.

Unfortunately hubris seemed to haunt the venture from the start of previews last November. There were a myriad of technical problems, multiple cast injuries, many of which required hospitalization and all tallied daily in the New York tabloids. Opening dates were pushed around so many times that critics became chagrined and finally just purchased tickets on their own as a public service to the future ticket buyer. What they saw and wrote about Spider-Man the next morning was not favorable and did not please the show’s investors and presenters. Only then did the lead producers Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris dismiss Taymor and her team and replace them with a new director, Philip William McKinley, to try to tame the chaos. McKinley’s main claim to fame is staging Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus, billed as “creative consultant.”

A three-week hiatus ensued for doctoring and triage, bringing on new book writer Roberto Aquirre Sacasa and additional choreography by Chase Brock. Spider-Man opened officially in mid-June – after almost eight months of previews, another Broadway record.

The result was, as you might expect, a patchwork affair, a hodge-podge mixture of Taymor artistry now leavened by a healthy dose of humdrum, but more coherent, storytelling. This new Taymor/McKinley hybrid never really jells into cohesive and satisfying entertainment. What saves the evening from being completely lusterless is some fantastic aerial feats by a fleet of Spidermen and an act-two show-stopping fight scene between Spiderman and the Green Goblin, which takes place over the audiences heads; it is the evening's one moment of true theatrical excitement.

The rest of the time the show too often gets stuck in sloughs that are in no way helped by Bono and The Edge’s mostly uninspired vanilla score or the new dances by the fledgling Brock, whose choreography is equally unimpressive.

The young, energetic cast does everything in its power to breathe some life into the work. Carney is impressive as Peter/Spider-Man, and as his girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson, Jennifer Damiano is sweet and effective. Both have excellent singing voices. Patrick Page, a fine actor, is just okay in the dual roles of Norman Osbom and the Green Goblin, mainly because he doesn’t have that much to do in either role and Colin Bath does all of the Green Goblin’s flashy aerial feats. As Peter’s newspaper editor, J. Jonah Jameson, Michael Mulheren is broad and funny and milks whatever humor is in the show.

The only person who seems to have gotten everything right in Spider-Man is its scenic designer George Tsypin, whose designs of New York City are simply astonishing works of art that capture the story of Spider-Man and the Gotham he inhabits with exceptional brilliance at a multitude of vertigo-inducing and ever-changing angles. If the rest of the show was as artful as Tsypin’s contribution, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark would be a winner.

Addendum: It should be noted that Spider-Man has been doing over a million dollars a week at the box office, and I am told future ticket sales are brisk. The worldwide publicity its preview woes generated and its brand name seems to have made the show very popular with families and tourists both American and foreign. Whether it ever will turn in a profit is questionable since it’s running costs are high – over a million dollars a week.


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