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... "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.
SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK Broadway Reviews
The barrage of criticism heaped upon Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark certainly lowered my expectations, and I'm not absolutely sure I'd want to pay top ticket price unless I was certain I was in seats where I'd experience the full impact of the show's effects. But the bottom line is that I had a pretty good time at Spider-Man, and I think just about everyone else in the theatre did too. If you go, I am very sure you will have an experience—at least for those 15 minutes—unlike any you've had before.
Emerging from all that tangled drama, Spidey 2.0 is more cohesive, streamlined and funnier than before, and its thrills are still intact - though it is still weighed down by so-so songs. "Spider-Man" isn't a great, gourmet meal, but it's a tasty diversion.
Essential elements of that production remain, along with the flying feats and other high-tech visuals. But the new Spider-Man is cuter and more cautious than its predecessor, more in line with the winking musical adaptations of famous films and brands that have lined the theater district in recent years. Clearly, producers heeded the critics and fans who hoped to see the title character represented more as he'd been in comic books and movies. Specifically, that meant streamlining the story to eliminate a love triangle involving the spider-woman Arachne, who in 1.0 emerged as both protector and nemesis to Spider-Man/Peter Parker and rival to Mary Jane, Peter's girlfriend. The Arachne of 2.0 is a simpler, sweeter creature; the antagonist is now scientist Norm Osborn's deranged alter ego, the Green Goblin, who views Peter/Spidey as his wayward son.
So the final mutation of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is not a multidisciplinary breakthrough, as Taymor hoped; it’s just a musical. Likewise, Peter Parker may have superpowers that let him fly around New York on spiderwebs, but at the end of the day, he’s just a kid.
The first act drags as the storytellers pack in as much background as possible, but the pace picks up in Act 2. The songs, by U2's Bono and The Edge, have been gradually Broadway-ized, or at least de-Edge-ified. Gone, for the most part, are tons of jangling guitars. If there was once a sense that this Irish duo could simply write two dozen new songs and plunk them into a musical, that time is gone.
For those who do -- or those for whom flying around to impress a girl and save the world sounds like a Saturday night of all Saturday nights -- Broadway now has an efficient, very expensive, very new comic-book musical with cool effects, some amusements, a brooding hero in Carney, a somewhat shellshocked but spunky heroine in Damiano, and, I predict, a line out the door for a good long while. And, of course, pending clones.
The great problem still plaguing "Spider-Man" is that it can't decide what it is -- a theme park attraction, a Broadway musical or a circus. Then again, undiscerning audiences don't seem to care. For them, it all adds up to more bang for their bucks.
But at the same time, it remains little more than a kid-friendly stunt spectacular with glitzy superhero costumes, bad songs and a few cheesy laughs. It's just an oversized, overpriced, longer version of what you'd find at a theme park.
Early in Act 2 of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the genetically altered villain Green Goblin (Patrick Page) sings, 'I'm a $65 million circus tragedy - actually, more like 75.' Yes, that's a wink-wink nod to the show's notorious crawl to opening night following months of delays, budget overruns, cast injuries, and the exit of original director and co-creator Julie Taymor. So how does the retooled Broadway production fare? It gets full marks for spectacle - Daniel Ezralow's aerial choreography and George Tsypin's sets deserve a curtain call all their own - but only partial credit as musical theater.
What swings from the rafters, springs from the wings and bursts from the stage floor of the Foxwoods Theatre is a definite upgrade from the flailing behemoth on view in February, when I and a bunch of other reviewers, tired of the delays, took a gander at what director Julie Taymor had wrought. Still, in the story set to rock music by Bono and the Edge - of meek Peter Parker's acquisition of spidery agility and subsequent battle royal with the dastardly Green Goblin - this effects-driven musical is still situated a wide canyon's distance from good.
Like any ordinary bad musical, Spider-Man offers some ancillary pleasures in between its lackluster songs and startlingly lame choreography. Some of George Tsypin's tilting-skyscraper sets are eye-tickling; the multi-authored book has two amusing bits involving the Green Goblin's struggle with electronic voicemail. As said Goblin, Patrick Page, his voice showing severe signs of wear, nonetheless seems to be having great fun. No doubt eight-year-olds with a few hundred bucks to spare will enjoy themselves. The rest of us can hope that somebody, celebrity or not, will shortly create a better musical.
This gajillion-dollar musical will never be good, but, having dislodged its creator, Julie Taymor, it has been salvaged.
In the last year, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" has gone from artistic oddity to conventional family entertainment. Between that and the strength of its brand name, it's ready to join Madame Tussauds and Shake Shack on a tourist's Times Square itinerary.
Unfortunately, the evening remains an underwhelming theatrical experience, with the biggest disappointment being the unmemorable score. Bono and The Edge, who have written so many stirring anthems for U2, have failed to work similar magic here, with pedestrian music and lyrics that--with rare exceptions such as “Rise Above” and the lovely ballad “If the World Should End”--fail to be sufficiently stirring. While the sound mix has been improved, no doubt due to the increased presence of the composers in recent months, it’s not enough to make the music soar to the heights that it should.
So, is it better? Yes, the story makes sense now and, so far, no one has fallen down. But is it better than junk-food theater in a jumbo package? No.
But the cloth now looks wrinkled and tired, as does much of a cast that has been giving its all for so long. The songs still stop the show in its tracks because they're pop songs, not theater songs that get inside the characters while advancing the plot.
Watching this elaborate if numbing attraction at the Foxwoods, theatergoers with long memories may recall the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Starlight Express,” which opened in 1987 and was the most expensive-ever show of its day. Costing a cool $8 million, the musical involved roller-skating performers impersonating trains running on tracks laid around the auditorium, lasted 700-odd performances and never paid off its investment both commercially and as satisfying theater for adults. While there is certainly a significant audience for junk food-style entertainment on Broadway, I wonder whether the million empty calories represented by “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” will be tasty enough to attract sufficient customers for a very long time.
In terms of narrative clarity and character definition, the show is sharper. But while the emergency surgical team has injected fanboy humor and self-conscious acknowledgments of the production's rocky gestation, they have not located a heart in this bloated monster.
And there you have it: $70 million and nearly nine years of effort, all squandered on a damp squib. To be sure, the people who came to last Saturday's sold-out press preview seemed to be enjoying themselves, though they saved their cheers for the flying, not the songs. No doubt "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" will continue to draw crowds, if only because it's been written about with such pendulum-like regularity. But it's neither good enough to get you excited nor bad enough to make you mad, and that will in all likelihood be its epitaph: Never in the history of Broadway has so much been spent to so little effect.
So is this ascent from jaw-dropping badness to mere mediocrity a step upward? Well, until last weekend, when I caught a performance of this show's latest incarnation, I would have recommended "Spider-Man" only to carrion-feasting theater vultures. Now, if I knew a less-than-precocious child of 10 or so, and had several hundred dollars to throw away, I would consider taking him or her to the new and improved "Spider-Man."
Spider-Man — to beat my running metaphor into the ground and then leave it for dead — is like that good-and-crazy friend with a highly entertaining substance-abuse problem, the one who goes off and gets clean, and comes back a different and diminished person: With his manias and overmuchness reined in, you suddenly realize how very little you ever had to offer one another. With Taymor gone, and the ruins of her monstrous Lovecraftian vision overrun by Lilliputians, there's simply nothing to see here, other than the sort of "stunt spectacular" that wouldn't look out of place amid a backdrop of roller coasters and toddler vomit. It's a vast emptiness, void even of its animating madness. It shuffles and smiles and subsides, like a good inmate, its hummingbird heartbeat slowed to a crawl. Put your head to Spidey's chest, and all you'll hear is the dull smack of a damp wad of cash hitting the boards.