Written by: Gary M. Kenny, CC2K Comics Editor
Through a series of rewrites, months of previews (and still going), broken bones, and lawsuits what kind of web has Spidey spun? CC2K traveled to NYC’s Foxwoods Theatre for a “preview” of Spider-man: Turn Off The Dark. We have to state that the show is still in “previews” (since November 28, 2010 which is more then 70 previews) with an opening date scheduled for March 15, 2011 (its fifth new opening date). Please note that this critique is not about the final version of the show. However, CC2K is assuming based on insider information that (though there might be small tweaks) we have witnessed the final version of SM: TOTD. *WARNING SPOILERS*
I was a bit nervous. My childhood hero wants to be a Broadway star. He wants to s(w)ing and dance, maybe win a Tony; yet there is this part of me that keeps thinking “don’t do it Spidey, you don’t want to go down this route.” My wife and I walked into the Foxwoods theatre and it’s a gorgeous theatre. Growing up in New York City, I’ve seen countless plays/musicals in this theatre. The last show I experienced here was Young Frankenstein (don’t read the reviews, the show was amazing, the critics panned it because they hated how Mel Brooks came and conquered Broadway with The Producers) and when a show is played here it carries this old fashioned charm with it. Multiple floors, bright and golden interior, it’s a beautiful place to see a show.
We walk in and right away we are bombarded with kiosks, a shop, and merch people all selling $40 T-shirts. Most broadway shows have one or maybe two T-shirt koisks (ex: Rent had two, one on the 1st level, one on the 2nd). In this theatre you can’t go to the bathroom without someone trying to sell you some expensive shirt or poster. In fact you can see all the gear on Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark‘s official website. Our seats were in the “fly” zone which is the 2nd tier of the house (the show has 3 levels). Our “friendly neighborhood” usher (his words, not mine) led us to our seats and explained that we will be seating in what they call “power” seats. Many of the shows stunts will take place near our seats and Spider-man will be swinging and landing directly next to us. Why are they called “power” seats? “With great power…” yadda yadda yadda. The usher had to explain that we are not to grab nor try to swing with old webhead, not to touch the costume (which looked really cool up close), and to not have our feet or articles of clothing on Spidey’s landing area. I was tempted to swing with my masked hero but figured I didn’t want to end up with broken wrists and a concussion. Plus there were a few children no older than 6 years sitting right behind me. If they had to sit in their seat, so did I.
Julie Taymor really creates living art. I’ve met the lady (not the warmest muffin in the bunch), I’ve seen her set designs for The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflote) and The Lion King (both amazing performances), and watched a majority of her movies (Across the Universe is a favorite of mine). Julie loves Greek Mythology and she’s faithful to her actors, if you make it to her Rolodex you’ll end up in a few of her movies (or in this case Broadway plays). Bono and the Edge from U2 are monsters. Joshua Tree is still an album I listen to at least once a year. Their names in the entertainment biz are powerhouses. So, while waiting for SM:TOTD to begin, I started to think “why Spider-man?” Why would three talented and original artists take an iconic character and remake him for Broadway? Their names are as big as his. Why wouldn’t you make an entirely new story, why choose Spider-man’s origin? I don’t have an answer. Even after while I’m writing this article, a week after I saw the show, I can not explain why these three people chose or where chosen to create the Spider-man musical.
Thanks to the movie, most people know the story of Spider-Man. The musical on some level follows the Marvel Comics staple:
Peter Parker is a nerdy kid who’s in love with the cool girl in the class. On a field trip he gets bitten by a radioactive Spider, which turns him into our friendly neighborhood Webhead. Instead of stopping a criminal because it wasn’t “his job,” said criminal kills his Uncle Ben (father figure). Peter Parker struggles in his social life, especially trying to win over his High School crush Mary Jane. While in his alter ego battles the Green Goblin.
The show begins. The set looks like it’s taken from a page of the Amazing Spider-man comic. The colors are bright and the pattern is perfect. Like a pop out book the George Washington bridge folds out from the middle of the stage and attached to the end is a captured Mary Jane. In slow motion Spider-man appears out from the middle of the bridge and runs to her while the city (background) is in flames. Her rope is cut and she falls into the stage (pit). Spider-Man screams out her name. End scene. Stage goes dark. Out come four teenagers. Three boys and one girl. They are the shows narrators, just like in a Greek play (they are the Greek Chorus), they move the piece and help the characters progress. The story is somewhat about them. The boys are writing what they believe to be the best Spider-man story ever told. “and Spider-man screams Mary Jane…and and and…” the boys debate what should happen next and why. They sound very juvenile and over the top. The girl who tags along with them looks as if she’s just came back from an anime convention (she wears a hat with ears). We find out she’s related to the cool boy in the group (you can tell because his hair is full of product and he wears a leather jacket). One boy looks like a hipster nerd while the last boy is a cross between Jughead (from Archie) and Shaggy (from Scooby-doo). Throughout the piece we learn a great deal about these characters:
- They are written poorly. It isn’t the actors fault. The script is flawed with terrible writing. The Jughead/Shaggy character is so over the top and the script is so witless that what passes for a joke is how he misunderstands the phrase “free will” and some how thinks everyone is talking about the movie Free Willy.
- The Girl is portrayed to be Julie Taymor (in some aspect). She doesn’t know much about comic books, but knows plenty about Greek Mythology. In the 2nd act the girl makes up a character: Swiss Miss which is one of Taymor’s terrible creations. She is also the character that introduces The fable of Arachne. Arachne is the main villain in this show.
- They are pointless characters. If you cut them out of the show, you’d save 45 minutes from the show.
Soon the boys start discussing the origin of Spider-Man and one of the most artistic parts of the show happen: The story of Archane. Julie Taymor’s Arachne (T.V. Carpio) is based on Greek mythology (not Marvel mythology) and her role in the show doesn’t make too much sense. Throughout the show, i’ve come to question :Is this spider-god real or merely a figment of Peter Parker’s dreams? Arachne through Taymor’s eyes is the reason for Spider-man’s suit. She questions “Do you know any 15 year old who knows how to sow?” U2 have written at least 8 or 9 songs for this show. Only 3 work and the best one is the first number “Behold and Wonder.” Five performers are suspended by golden sashes as strips of fabric flow between them. This scene really stands out and is the one of the most beautiful scenes in the show (it also has no tie into Spider-man). The 2nd best set is the walk home with Peter and Mary Jane. They used treadmills build into the stage to make the characters look like they were really walking. When they arrive to their homes, they open up like a doll house and have the old fashion comic book late 60s early 70s art inside. The 1st act had some great art directions and they were memorable. I’ll go on about the 2nd act in a bit.
T.V. Carpio is a great actress and singer, too bad she’s wasted as Arachne, but it’s because the script ruins her. We listen to the story about how she was the worlds best seamstress and is turned into a spider-god. The set stands out and the character is introduced as mystical and beautiful. In the 1st act we forget that she’s a Julie Taymor creation but in the 2nd act she becomes the equivalent of an Adam West Batman villain, she sings a song about stealing shoes. It’s a song that U2 and Taymor should be embarrassed of. It comes out of left field, feels forced, and left the audience feeling awkward because it was so bad (we had to clap at the end because we knew the actors didn’t even want to be singing it). In the end Arachne is a poor choice as the story’s main villain. Plenty of great characters to choose from and Julie Taymor had to take one from Greek myths? Why? She really should have worked with the folks over at Marvel.
The song ends and we’re transported into a classroom that’s taken out of a scene from Grease. Parker is overly nerdy goofball and the rest of the kids look like they should be in Step Up 3D. They sing a punk fighting song about beating up Pete. The choreography is goofy and not very good, just like the scene and just like the song. The next scene they go to Oscorp and we meet Norman Osborn and he’s Australian. Patrick Page plays the Green Goblin / Norman Osborn and he’s the best part of the show. He’s whimsical and likable as Osborn and when he transforms into the Green Goblin he’s a rip, funny and sadistic. The high wire fight scenes with him and Spidey are well worth the price of admission. Why wasn’t he the main focus of the show. He’s a major player in the 1st act. 2nd Act comes along he’s stage time is maybe 15 minutes. He got a standing ovation at the end.
I got lucky. My show had no high wire errors. Nobody got stuck, hurt, or tangled. When Webhead swung around the theatre all the little kids and adults pointed and cheered. Spider-man landed on the ledge next to my seat and the 6 year old behind me let out such a gasp of delight that I was transported back to being 6 myself. The stunts were really something. The problem is though they are in the air for at least 20 minutes throughout the whole show, the show is almost 3 hours long. It gets old and most of it feels like it could have been reedited.
This show is so topsy turvy with it’s characters, story and songs. In the 1st act you’ll get a great song. Then a terrible one, then a fun scene, then a boring one. The show feels as if it never knows what it wants to be. The 1st act only really works because it follows the Marvel mythos, but when the 2nd act takes over the show swings into the trash. I’ll give you an example. The Greek Chorus aka the four kids start pondering who is one of Spidey’s greatest villains. Only one way to find out: SUPER VILLAIN FASHION SHOW. It was like the scene cat walk scene from Zoolander. Carnage, Kraven, Lizard, Swarm and Taymor’s Swiss Miss all strut there stuff in front of audience. They are mute and pointless. Taymor and Co spent $68 million on this?
In the end, when people ask for how I liked the show I tell them to imagine a ballet about football. All slim guys in tights wearing pads and helmets, doing splits with their legs in the air. Doesn’t really work right? Or it’s an interpretation but you end up feeling bored while watching it. But then, there is this amazing scene where a guy gets tackled super hard and flies off stage. You’re like “cool!” and then it goes back to being an artsy ballet. Spider-man is suppose to be amazing and fun, the script should follow a story with a moral. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Then again maybe Spider-man and musical were never meant to fully work.
After the show, we headed back to our apartment, all we could talk about was the good things. The swinging stunts, the costume, the sets, and the Green Goblin. The next day we ended up stating all our negative comments. I thought that was funny that we never discussed the problems until a day afterward. Maybe there is some charm left in that theatre for Spidey too.
Even though looking back there were problems and I might tell you to just go for the 1st act and run during intermission. Spidey is something I’ve never experienced before on Broadway. They said for this show just to break even it would have to sell out for 10 years. I do know that even with bad reviews people are going to run to see this. I might even see it again and I didn’t fully like it. It might not be what I hoped it would be, then again It’s still pretty cool to see Spider-man swing around in real life.
2.5 out of 5.0
Gary is a husband, father, fireman, comic reader, gamer, body builder, and rocker. He also is a co-owner of a bakery in upstate NY. He likes to tell everyone his favorite band is the Beatles, when his actual favorite band is the Alkaline Trio.