Spider-Man – Turn Off the Dark

It’s finally opened. And no, it’s not as good or as bad as everyone says it is. The infamous musical Spider-Man – Turn Off the Dark has officially opened on Broadway after 183 previews, two directors and numerous news items regarding the problem-plagued production.

I did not see the original production, although some critics chose to purchase tickets and publish reviews of it. I do not have any basis of comparison for this review but, having watched the official Broadway opening, I can say this – it’s not a good show.

Starring Reeve Carney as Peter Parker, the dorky high school student who is bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark is a formulaic, superhero-lite story filled with great special effects but not-so-great stories or songs.

The Spider-Man movies, the first two of which were considered great achievements in action cinema, successfully combined the internal and external conflicts of Peter Parker, struggling with his personal life as well as saving his city from various villains, into a coherent and compelling story. Sadly, the musical adaptation does not achieve such success. Peter is introduced to the audience, Peter is bitten, Peter is in love with the girl next door, Mary Jane (performed by Jennifer Damiano, whose superb talent is completely wasted in a bland, boring role). Peter and Mary Jane get together but she does not know he is Spider-Man and resents him always disappearing. He’s met the love of his life, but he also has to save the world. What’s a boy to do?

Carney possesses a mellow, rocker-lite voice and, combined with his delicate facial structure, appropriately personifies Peter’s vulnerability and sensitivity. His nemesis, the villainous Green Goblin (originally Dr. Norman Osborn, one of Peter’s idols), is performed by Patrick Page. Formerly seen on Broadway in the titular role of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Page seems to be forming a later-in-life career of playing green monsters. Infusing the bland role with mischievous glee, Page breathes unheard life and energy into the show.

The show’s music, composed by Bono and the Edge, is sure to attract U2 fans to Broadway, but they fall short of propelling the show’s plot or enhancing the characters’ development. “Bouncing Off the Walls,” which Carney sings while literally bouncing from one side of the set to another, is entertaining, as is “Rise Above,” which the dream figure Arachne (T.V. Carpio) motivates Peter to accept his superhero powers. One of the show’s earlier songs, “Bullying By The Numbers,” with choreography by Daniel Ezralow and Chase Brock, is awkwardly executed and does not depict the pain that Peter is supposed to feel in school. However, the show’s band is so loud that it’s difficult to understand the lyrics of the songs. And the ones you can understand, such as “A Freak Like Me Needs Company,” are perhaps better left unheard.

But who is actually going to the show to pay attention to the music? It’s the stunts – the daring, dangerous, headline-grabbing stunts, that are the real star of Spider-Man, and I am happy to report that they are incredible. Several different stunt doubles perform the titular character’s duties, flying above the audience, leaping from balcony to balcony, performing flips and twists that are truly exciting to watch. The sets, by George Tsypin, impressively channel Spider-Man’s comic book origins, and they are fitting accompaniment to the aerial choreography of Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. His depiction of the Chrysler Building is especially impressive.

The costumes by Eiko Ishioka are certainly creative, and given the limitations that exists in a live stage production, they are stunning. But the reason comic books and action movies exist is to suspend disbelief, not limit belief within physical constraints. This musical is certainly entertaining, but perhaps not in the way it was intended.

One Response to Spider-Man – Turn Off the Dark

  1. Preston Smith says:

    I find this review to be somewhat helpful, however, I might wonder how much gravitas one might be expected to experience attending (1) a musical, (2)about a boy who gains super powers ([3] from the bite of a spider no less!), (4) based on a comic book, which, itself, has had (5) about 49 years to establish it’s tone and characters. You seem to have wanted a more theatrical, thought-provoking experience such as “Evita” or “West Side Story” and instead you got (see last sentence). Even a film has the advantage of CGI, close-ups/establishing shots, flashbacks, etc to manipulate the audience sight and emotions. Let’s face it: putting SM into a B’way show is a ridiculous idea, but it’s a comic book, conceived during a dollar-bill orgy, to fleece the pockets of the “[insert name of stuffed characters]on Ice” crowd, Comic Con nerds, families and those who are drawn by the rumors of impending major disasters. I say this as a survivor of “The Moose Murders.” Keep up the good work.