Some $70 million later, after all the tortured, bloated angst, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” is somewhat redeemed by a little special effect that costs just a few bucks.
The big finale to the new version of the show, which opened Tuesday night, has its nine-stunt Spider-Men crawling all over the Foxwoods Theatre and exploding little bombs of paper that shoot streamers into the audience.
Sure, other shows do a variation on the trick, sending glitter or confetti raining down. But in this tragically epic show, it adds a dash of whimsy, of thrill, binding us to one another — and to the show — in webs of white paper.
It may come as no surprise that this little low-tech trick was added after the departure of Julie Taymor, a visionary director whose vision apparently had grown cloudy. Would she have approved of such a party trick, thinking it tacky, perhaps?
It is also a self-conscious touch — something missing from previous iterations of Miss Taymor’s glum, oh-so-serious “Spider-Man.” This production is lighter and clearer, if thematically less challenging. It may not be the best thing in theater, but it is far from the worst show in Broadway history.
What it is is a freak, and it knows it. As the Green Goblin (a wonderful, perfectly hammy Patrick Page) sings in a newly added song that starts off Act 2: “If you’re looking for a night out on the town, you just found me / (A freak like me needs company) / I’m a $65 million circus tragedy.” (That joke is at least $5 million behind budget.)
“Spider-Man” is a weird mix of ultra-high-tech — the Act 2 digital projections of comic book villains is dazzling and the aerial work dizzying — and oddly low tech: A little toy train trundles across the skyline at one point. The same show that has a complicated fight between Goblin and Spidey over the audience at 40 mph also has huge cartoon-y cut outs that slide out as if in a sixth-grade talent show.
There is also an inconsistency of imagery. Some characters are human. Some — a trio of comic-strip crooks — are encased in huge Mardi Gras-like mask heads and carry fake machine guns. Six superpsychos called the Sinister Six (the show takes poetic license by creating some of the Six that are not in the Spider-Man comic books) exists seemingly only to show off costume designer Eiko Ishioka’s skill.
That inconsistency extends to the Daily Bugle newsroom, where you find a 1940s sensibility with cigar-chomping publisher J. Jonah Jameson and a stenograph pool populated by women, yet references to the Internet. It barely makes sense. It’s like coming across vestigial elements from some long-lost musical — once great ideas now abandoned yet somehow preserved in the mechanism.
But why strive for sense when producers already have paid for the scenes? “You can change your mind, but you cannot change your heart,” Peter Parker sings in the song “Boy Falls From the Sky.”
Philip William McKinley, who was brought in to take over Miss Taymor’s directing duties, and script doctor Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, together with original co-book writer Glenn Berger, have done a credible job in a very short time smoothing out this freak, but bumps remain.
What you ultimately get is what Miss Taymor seemed determined not to do: a simplistic story of geeky boy falls for pretty girl, gets bitten by weird spider, becomes Spider-Man and then must choose between wooing the girl or saving the world.
There’s also the parallel story of scientist Norman Osborne bent on creating Mankind 2.0 through DNA manipulation. (“Mutate and live,” the mad-scientist says, in a slogan that could fit the new show’s attempt to create Spider-Man 2.0.)
Pressured by the military to weaponize his skills, he’ll become the Goblin soon enough, and then he and Spider-Man are destined to fight. The script reclaims the “With great power comes great responsibility” line that had been dropped and applies it to the hero and his nemesis, both fueled by each losing someone close to them. You want deeper motivations? What are you doing at this musical?
The principal cast — Reeve Carney as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Jennifer Damiano as Mary Jane Watson, T.V. Carpio as Arachne and Page — deserve respect, if not Purple Hearts. They’ve been hanging in there — sometimes literally — through months of wrenching changes and work hard.
What Mr. Carney lacks in pure ruggedness he makes up for with a hangdog adorableness. Miss Carpio, who has seen her role greatly reduced to the point that it may seem a little pointless, still sings with beauty and tenderness, even though her feet never touch the ground. Miss Damiano radiates a sweet, Mary-Jane vulnerability and shares a pretty duet with Mr. Reeve while hanging on a fire escape on a starry night.
Mr. Page, though, is the real star. He’s a Shakespearean actor who played the title role in “The Grinch” and knows how to walk that fine line between camp and earnestness. He has a villainous voice that commands and excellent comic timing, and he provides the impish joy this show desperately needs. (Just try not to laugh when he makes a Shake Weight joke or navigates an automated phone system.)
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 simply could write two dozen new songs and plunk them into a musical, that time is gone.
That doesn’t mean that the music entirely works or is consistent in tone and approach. Some of it is weak, such as the Marilyn Manson-like “A Freak Like Me Needs Company.” But “Rise Above” and “Boy Falls From the Sky” are standouts, straight from a rock arena. The wispy “If the World Should End” is pretty, and the bombastic “Pull the Trigger” tries to fuse classic Broadway with techno, to mixed results.
The rebooted musical even playfully references the songwriters at several points, as when U2’s song “Vertigo” blasts at a school dance. There are other little in-jokes. Guess the title of the play that Mary-Jane, a fledgling actress, is making in her stage debut? “The Fly.” OK, it’s not “The Book of Mormon,” but the little jokes that pop up in “Spider-Man” show the musical was at least created by humans.
Other highlights of imagination include the scene “Bouncing Off the Walls” in which Mr. Reeve, suspended by cables, slams around his bedroom, and an odd little detour when Parker takes on an inflatable giant wrestler being manipulated by a very visible man. Both these scenes don’t try to hide the trick but still produce a childlike wonderment.
George Tsypin’s sets are ingenious, particularly his Chrysler Building, with its antenna pushing out toward the audience, with a little trail of tiny cars lighted on the street far below. He favors a bold, pop-art style that overemphasizes angles and perspective. When Peter and Mary-Jane walk home from school, huge panels depicting houses along the route open and close as if a comic book is being read. One of the most visually stunning scenes has Arachne’s followers weave huge swaths of saffron fabric as they swing across the stage, one of Miss Taymor’s memorable images.
Glitches remain, though. Too much smoke one night pretty much destroyed a Goblin scene, and the sound system often leaves the lyrics muddy. But the stunts now seem assured (even if the Goblin’s flying isn’t as sexy as Spider-Man’s). And put your hands together at the curtain call for performer Christopher Tierney, who as Spider-Man almost broke his neck in the name of entertainment and returned. Whatever you think of the show, he is a trooper.
In the end, you know how it all ends. SPLAT! goes the Goblin. Big SMOOCH! between Mary-Jane and Peter Parker.
It would have been different if Miss Taymor had more time and we had more patience. But it’s not so bad without her. Fanboys, especially, will get giddy and clutch their Playbills happily, and maybe will want to come back.
The problem with expensive leftovers is that they're bound to go bad if you don't put them to good use.
That dilemma faced the new creative team of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," which opened last night at the Foxwoods Theatre on W. 42nd St.
It only took $75 million, seven months of previews, a round of injuries to flying actors, the emotional departure of its creative director and a three-week shutdown to retool.
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.
Philip McKinley, who oversees the staging, and new writer Robert Aguirre-Sacasa, have taken existing ingredients and skillfully reorganized them. As a salvage mission, the accomplishments are impressive.
Original director Julie Taymor's fingerprints are still evident, but now the focus is where it should be: On Peter Parker (Reeve Carney), the nerdy teen turned web-slinger, who must juggle his sweetheart Mary Jane (Jennifer Damiano) and nemesis Green Goblin (Patrick Page).
The straightforward story doesn't expand the portrait of the popular hero, but at least you don't leave scratching your head in confusion about Arachne (T.V. Carpio), a mystical spiderwoman who previously upstaged Spider-Man.
That was a nagging issue when Taymor was in charge. Arachne's presence has been lessened and lightened. Meanwhile, other villains have become more than just elaborate Halloween costumes.
The reason to see "Turn Off the Dark" remains. The acrobatic aerial stunts and flying, particularly the 11 o'clock showdown, are dazzling.
Spidey now drops into the aisles and showers the audience in stringy confetti for fun that's up close and personal.
Second to the flying effects are George Tsypin's awesome comic-inspired sets. They flip, unfold and twinkle as they weave their way from Queens rowhouses and high-tech lab to the top of the Chrysler Building.
Unfortunately, songs by U2 rockers Bono and The Edge are a mixed bag and don't match visual splendors.
Like a vanquished villain, several nondistinct tunes go splat. A new Green Goblin song, "A Freak Like Me," seems like a number cut from "Shrek" or "Taboo."
The best songs are the moody and melodic ballads "Rise Above" and "The Boy Falls From the Sky," which land even better with an improved soundscape.
McKinley's credits include "The Boy From Oz" and Ringling Bros. circuses. He keeps the production flowing briskly.
Carney brings heartthrob charm and a scruffy singing voice as Spidey. Damiano makes a cute girlfriend. Their duet, "If the World Should End," is a richly romantic high point.
Page, who has played the Grinch, knows nasty. He tackles the Goblin with campy gusto and an inexplicable mint-julep drawl.
In the end, "Spider-Man" makes for a enjoyable evening that goes down easy. Getting to this point was anything but.
At long last, Spider-Man is ready to do some serious web-slinging on Broadway. And what do we get after $70 million, nine years of work and 183 previews? Silly string and paper streamers.
Welcome to your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man — emphasis on the friendly.
“Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” the busy musical spectacle that opened last night, tries very hard to be fun and accessible. After many upheavals and accidents, firings and rewrites, the show is closer than ever to the bull’s eye, but that’s not saying much: The target has been both broadened and lowered. The point of reference is Joel Schumacher’s family-ready “Batman,” not Christopher Nolan’s dark, arty one.
The team that rebooted the behemoth by Julie Taymor, Bono and The Edge in March certainly has streamlined things.
Script doctor Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and “creative consultant” Philip William McKinley have tidied up Taymor’s haphazard vision, cutting both the Geek Chorus and the director’s more bizarre inventions; only fans of cheesetastic clunkers will miss the preposterous shoe-fetish number.
The plot now includes more back story, and follows a straight line from point A to point B. At least we can tell what’s going on.
In short: Shy teenager Peter Parker (Reeve Carney) is bitten by a mutant spider, acquires superpowers and secures the love of sweetheart Mary Jane Watson (Jennifer Damiano).
Peter/Spider-Man’s big trial is his battle against Green Goblin (a brazenly hammy Patrick Page), a crowd-pleasing villain who dispatches corny one-liners, sings “I’ll Take Manhattan” from the top of the Chrysler Building and unleashes the destructive Sinister Six.
At least Peter gets inspiration from Arachne (T.V. Carpio), a spidery character out of Greek mythology who’s “the voice within [his] heart.”
Visually speaking, the show bears Taymor’s outlandish stamp, carried out through the characters’ masks, George Tsypin’s boldly graphic sets and Eiko Ishioka’s fantastical costumes. In “Behold and Wonder,” aerialists weave a gigantic orange tapestry — fans of “The Lion King” will be in familiar territory. And anything involving skyscrapers looks fantastic, placing the characters against skewed, Cubist perspectives.
Following the infamous technical mishaps, the kinks in the flying sequences have been ironed out; everyone’s been taking off and landing without a hitch. Spidey and the Goblin zoom by impressively, close to the audience’s heads, but the overall effect is more competent than awe-inspiring, more Six Flags than magic. How weird that this is an extravaganza without a single genuine showstopper.
Over the past few months, Bono and The Edge tweaked their lyrics and wrote a new song. When it revels in U2’s trademark soaring, romantic grandiosity, the score easily fills the cavernous Foxwoods Theatre.
The numbers that work best are those performed by Carney and Damiano. These evocative performers project the awkward sweetness of teenage yearning in duets such as “Picture This” and “If the World Should End.” (Matthew James Thomas, who plays Peter at matinees, is a less impressive singer, but a sensitive actor.)
The title tune is also quite beautiful, maybe because it owes a lot to This Mortal Coil’s Goth-pop cult hit “Song to the Siren.”
But some numbers land with a thud. Peter’s great-awakening number, “Bouncing Off the Walls,” is defeated by a torpid, lazy chorus, while the Goblin’s new patter song, “A Freak Like Me,” sounds tired. “I’m a $65 million circus tragedy”? If you say so, Greenie.
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.
There is something to be said for those dangerous flying objects — excuse me, I mean actors — that keep whizzing around the Foxwoods Theater, where the mega-expensive musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” has entered the latest chapter of its fraught and anxious existence. After all, if you’re worried that somebody might fall on top of you from a great height, the odds are that you won’t nod off.
Those adrenaline-raising acrobatics are a necessary part of the lumpy package that is “Spider-Man,” which had its long-delayed official opening on Tuesday night, after 180-some preview performances. First seen and deplored by critics several months ago — when impatient journalists (including me) broke the media embargo for reviews as the show’s opening date kept sliding into a misty future — this singing comic book is no longer the ungodly, indecipherable mess it was in February. It’s just a bore.
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.”
The first time I saw the show, it was like watching the Hindenburg burn and crash. This time “Spider-Man” — which was originally conceived by the (since departed) visionary director Julie Taymor with the rock musicians Bono and the Edge (of U2) — stirred foggy, not unpleasant childhood memories of second-tier sci-fi TV in the 1960s, with blatantly artificial sets and actors in unconvincing alien masks.
“Spider-Man” may be the only Broadway show of the past half-century to make international headlines regularly, often with the adjective “troubled” attached to its title. So I’m assuming you already know at least a bit of its long and tortuous history of revision, cancellation, indecision and injury (from production-related accidents), and of its true star.
That would be Ms. Taymor (who retains an “original direction by” credit), who in the 1990s was hailed as the new Ziegfeld after reinventing a Disney animated film, “The Lion King,” as a classy, mass-appeal Broadway blockbuster. The prospect of her hooking up with Spidey, the nerdy-cool Marvel Comics crime fighter, seemed like a swell opportunity for another lucrative melding of pageantry, puppetry and culture high and low.
Those elements were certainly in abundance in the “Spider-Man” I saw several months ago. That production, which featured a script by Ms. Taymor and Glen Berger, placed its young superhero in a broader meta-context of Greek mythology and American Pop art, with a “geek chorus” of commentators and a classical goddess named Arachne as the morally ambiguous mentor of Spidey and his awkward alter ego, Peter Parker.
Unfortunately, traditional niceties like a comprehensible plot and characters got lost in the stew. After critics let loose with howls of derision, “Spider-Man” took a three-week performance hiatus to reassemble itself, with tools that included audience focus groups. Exit Ms. Taymor. (Bono, the Edge and Mr. Berger stayed put.)
Enter Philip William McKinley — a director whose credits include several versions of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth” — and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a writer of both plays and comic books. Now if you check out the directory of paid theater listings in The New York Times, you’ll see that the title “Spider-Man” is prefaced by the promising (if slightly desperate-sounding) words: “REIMAGINED! New Story! New Music!”
This is not false advertising. “Spider-Man” now bears only a scant resemblance to the muddled fever dream that was. It is instead not unlike one of those perky, tongue-in-cheek genre-spoof musicals (“Dames at Sea,” “Little Shop of Horrors”) that used to sprout like mushrooms in Greenwich Village, with witty cutout scenery and dialogue bristling with arch quotation marks.
Well, that is, if you could imagine such a show being stripped of its irony and supersized by a diabolical mad scientist with an enlarging ray. Though “Spider-Man” has shed its geek chorus and scaled down the role of Arachne (T. V. Carpio), it retains the most spectacular-looking centerpieces from the Taymor version. (George Tsypin is the set designer.) They include a vertiginous vision of Manhattan as seen from the top of the Chrysler Building, judiciously repositioned for plot purposes.
But they do seem out of proportion to what has become a straightforward children’s entertainment with a mildly suspenseful story, two-dimensional characters, unapologetically bad jokes and the kind of melodious rock tunes that those under 12 might be familiar with from listening to their parents’ salad-day favorites of the 1980s and ’90s. The puppet figures and mask-dominated costumes worn by the supporting villains still seem to have wandered in from a theme park. The projection designs by Kyle Cooper continue to suggest vintage MTV videos, as does the unimaginative choreography by Daniel Ezralow and Chase Brock.
The bonus is that anyone can follow the story now. (Boy is bitten by radioactive spider, boy acquires amazing powers, boy fights crime, boy has doubts, boy triumphs.) And the performers no longer seem overwhelmed by what surrounds them. Their characters now register as distinct if one-note personalities.
In the title role Reeve Carney is an appropriately nonthreatening crush object for tweens, an appealingly agitated Everydweeb with great cheekbones and a sanitized, lite version of a concert rocker’s voice. He is well paired with the wryly sincere Jennifer Damiano (“Next to Normal”) as Mary Jane Watson, Peter’s girlfriend.
Ms. Carpio’s Arachne (now a beneficent fairy godmother rather than an erotically troubling dream spider) provides the most arresting vocal moments with her ululating nasality. Michael Mulheren is suitably blustery and fatuous as the pandering newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson. And Patrick Page, as the megalomaniacal scientist who becomes the evil mutant called the Green Goblin, provides the one reason for adults unaccompanied by minors to see the show.
His role has been expanded, and Mr. Page uses the extra time not just to terrorize the audience amiably, as you expect mean green scene stealers to do. (He has charmingly reinvented that staple of melodramatic villains, the sustained insane cackle.) He also has become the show’s entertaining id, channeling and deflecting our own dark thoughts about this lopsided spectacle.
“I’m a $65 million circus tragedy,” he crows at one point. “Well, more like 75 million.”
But even Mr. Page is only a sideshow (not to switch metaphors) to the main event. And that’s the sight of real people — mostly stuntmen — flying over the audience, and the implicit danger therein. (An amplified voice warns the audience not only to turn off their cellphones but also to avoid trying to catch a ride with the professional fliers.)
Unlike the first time I saw “Spider-Man,” the flying (the first instance of which occurs about 45 minutes into the show) went off without a hitch on this occasion. The potential magic is undercut, though, by the very visible wires and harnesses that facilitate these aerodynamics.
Partly because the performers are masked, you experience little of the vicarious wonder and exhilaration that comes from watching Peter Pan or even Mary Poppins ride the air in other musicals. The effect is rather like looking at anonymous daredevils who have been strapped into a breakneck ride at an amusement park. Come to think of it, Coney Island might be a more satisfying choice.
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. After six postponements, five injuries, three replacements of the creative staff and a 3 1/2-week hiatus for a makeover -- not to mention more than 180 previews and, minimum, $70 million in production costs -- "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" is now a splashy, often sluggish pop-schlock Cirque du Spider for children with moderate attention spans and unusually tolerant fanboys.
The flying is definitely the main event -- especially if you thrill at the idea that grown men in spandex just might fall on your head. Christopher Tierney, amazingly recovered from his horrible accident, makes the handful of brief aerial flights (especially the battle with the Green Goblin) seem like air dancing. Those scenes -- plus some gorgeous stage images by designer George Tsypin and deposed director Julie Taymor -- make the dull characters seem even duller.
On the plus side, the annoying Geek Chorus has been excised, transitions strengthened, scenes rearranged and Arachne (T.V. Carpio) has been downsized from a distracting, threatening goddess to Peter Parker's guardian angel-bug.
The pretentiousness is gone. But so is any grand -- perhaps, loony -- ambition that first inflamed director Taymor and composers Bono and The Edge with promises of a breakthrough union of art, Broadway and genuine rock and roll.
With Taymor and her team out (but duly credited), new book writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, choreographer Chase Brock and "creative consultant" Philip Wm. McKinley have made a dumbed-down spectacle that sets the bar low and reaches it. Given the size and appeal of the "Spider-Man" franchise, such limitations may not affect this box-office phenomenon. Worse shows have profitably run forever.
The best change is the expansion of the only witty element in the self-serious show, the mad scientist / Green Goblin who used to die at the end of the first act. Patrick Page, the only real showman in a generic cast, has the bucket basso and hambone self-delight of a comic tragedian.
The new team has strengthened the emotional ties between Peter/Spidey (the earnest but blandish Reeve Carney) and Mary Jane (ditto Jennifer Damiano), as well as Peter's feelings for Uncle Ben and Aunt May. They all care more about each other now, which is good, but not enough to make us care about them.
Bono and The Edge have tweaked their first Broadway score, integrating bits of themes to make the songs feel more like parts of the same show. Although most of the new music serves as connective tissue, the Green Goblin gets a much-needed new production number, "A Freak Like Me," with dancing zombie chorus.
Any hope that these rock stars would shake up the old-fashioned musical, alas, was dashed months ago. Instead of transforming Broadway, they turned their sound into middle-of-the-road Broadway ersatz pop, sentimental wailing that sounds like early Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Although the second act is much improved, the narrative now feels as if it has been stitched together from high-tech remnants, with the cumulative tension stalled by three drippy, energy-sapping ballads.
The printed program for the show used to have what felt like a creepily personal note, clearly by Taymor, explaining how Arachne was punished for the arrogance called hubris. The Spidey message has always been "with great power comes great responsibility." The new mantra, espoused often by the Goblin, is "mutate or die." In other words, the show has lots less philosophy now -- and lots more silly string.
That deep sigh of relief you hear over Times Square marks the safe arrival of a dangerously overdue Broadway baby.
After myriad delays and hiccups, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (*** out of four) opened Tuesday, with no attendant reports of pigs flying or Hades freezing over. And it looks as if this $75 million underdog might just make it.
But let's qualify that slightly: The musical officially unveiled at the Foxwoods Theatre is Spider-Man "2.0" — not to be confused with the "1.0" version, prematurely greeted in February with some of the most savage reviews in recent memory.
That earlier incarnation, like it or loathe it, had the courage of its ambitions. Original director/co-librettist Julie Taymor and writing partner Glen Berger asked, with a refreshing lack of cynicism, that we join them on a ride that was at times bumpy but fueled throughout by an unreserved passion that could be touching and even thrilling.
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.
That paternal dynamic lurked in 1.0, but in the new text, tweaked by Berger and Marvel Comics writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, it's scrawled in bold-faced letters, as obvious as some of the hokey jokes added to lighten Taymor's operatic tone. Luckily, Patrick Page, the veteran actor who plays Osborn and the Goblin, is an exuberantly entertaining villain; Reeve Carney, the less experienced leading man, conveys a youthful earnestness and burgeoning confidence that make him a compelling foil.
The new Spider-Man is more of an overt crowd-pleaser, but its most affecting features reflect the serious, arty aspirations of the original. Composer/lyricists Bono and The Edge have added one campy number, Goblin's A Freak Like Me, but the most memorable songs offer the same emotional and melodic sweep that distinguishes their work in U2.
It's right after one such tune, the soaring ballad Rise Above, that Spider-Man first appears. As distinctly Edge-like guitars chime, dancers costumed as the superhero leap about like giddy children discovering a new trick.
At such moments, Spider-Man doesn't need technology or gadgetry to take flight.
They said it couldn’t be done. After a mere nine years of planning and an unprecedented 183 previews — extending from Thanksgiving weekend until midway between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July — “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” has officially turned on the lights at the Foxwoods Theater. That’s the former Ford and Hilton, now bearing the name of the Connecticut casino; not unfittingly so, as the whole thing remains a $70 million crapshoot. Upon a preliminary viewing back in February, “Spider-Man” was a spectacular mess. The finished version is reasonably improved but somewhat less spectacular.
As you might have heard, “Spider-Man” is a joint creation of Julie Taymor — the miracle worker behind “The Lion King” — and songwriters Bono and the Edge of U2. The enormity of the show’s tech and storytelling problems was bruited about since the first preview, becoming codified following an uninvited mid-winter visit by many of the first-night critics.
Some drastic changes that have been incorporated since then, under the guidance of new contributors including “creative consultant” Philip William McKinley (whose only prior mainstem credit is the Hugh Jackman hit “The Boy from Oz”), book-writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (from the comicbook world) and choreographer Chase Brock (from the contemp dance world). Taymor, who exited the produdction in March, retains credit as co-librettist and for “original direction.”
Several much-discussed flaws — the “Geek Chorus” framing device, extensive stage-time for the Taymor-created spider-woman Arachne, a jaw-droppingly misguided musical number about shoes — are gone, certainly for the better. But they tended to give distinct flavor to the show, and flavor is what “Spider-Man” now lacks.
Tuner proceeded without a technical glitch at a press preview Friday, but there seems to be significantly less exciting flying than remembered. Even so, first-time viewers are likely to be impressed with the aerials, especially the over-your-head battle scenes. Also standing out are the eerily effective scenic design by George Tsypin; a grandly villainous turn by Patrick Page (“The Grinch”), in an expanded role as the Green Goblin; and an attractive performance by twenty-year-old Jennifer Damiano (“Next to Normal”).
Leading the many negatives, though, is the ineffective score: Despite apparent rewrites, this remains the show’s Achilles’ heel. The song list includes four new titles, but to little avail, and the dramaturgy is still muddled, only with more jokes. This is a show that rises to the occasion only when the actors of the ensemble are flying; when people start singing or talking, the momentum — like the boy in the climactic second act song — “falls from the sky.”
Reeve Carney is effective in the title role, but customers should be warned that he doesn’t appear at a quarter of the performances (on a schedule that seems not to be publicized to ticketbuyers). And while he does a significant amount of singing and acting, that thrilling webslinging over your head and up to the balcony rail is, for the most part, not Carney but one of several unnamed actors wearing his costume and mask.
The reported $70 million expense — likedly pushed higher by a three-week closed-for-repairs period earlier this spring — makes “Spider-Man” four times as costly as the typical large-scale Broadway musical. Whether it can generate the “Wicked”-sized grosses necessary to recoup those costs remains the supersized question. But what was a sometimes inchoate mess has, thanks to the post-Taymor fixes, taken a giant leap to mediocrity, which makes for a significant improvement.