New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

"Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark"
Foxwoods Theater, Broadway

Was it worth the wait? Yes and No. Except for its technical virtues, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” is not a memorable musical, neither emotionally involving nor deeper than a comic book. But its love story is tender, its flying exciting, its scenery something to whistle about.

And it has Patrick Page as the villainous Green Goblin, giving one of the hammiest and funniest performances in many a moon. When Page contemplates destroying New York by sitting at a cartoon piano to sing “I’ll Take Manhattan,” the show reaches the highest realms of camp.

Of course, that tune was written by Rodgers and Hart, not Bono and the Edge, the composers/lyricists of the spectacle before us. But those contemporary U2 guys have turned out a serviceable score, bolstered by self-deprecating dialogue that digs at the show’s astronomical cost. (“I’m a $65 million circus travesty,” boasts the Green Goblin.)

You’ve heard the jokes about the show since that first version appeared, 183 previews before the “official” opening. Comedians and reporters everywhere cracked funny when some cast members suffered injuries, got stuck while flying or when original director and co-author Julie Taymor was fired. The jokes were mean-spirited but “Spider-Man” 1.0 was an outlandish mess.

Considerably tamed, Taymor’s original mythical ideas are ironically more in evidence now that she’s out of the picture. In version 1.0, Arachne (who, in Greek myth was punished for challenging the goddess Athena) was a vengeful, villainous spider with a bevy of female followers (looking to buy shoes, no less, for their multiple feet). In version 2.0, she’s a genuine mover and shaker, a beacon who summons a reluctant Peter Parker to fulfill his destiny and save the world from evil.

The song accompanying that latter scene, “Turn Off the Dark,” has become a metaphysical, almost sexy duet between Arachne and Peter, where it had been a solo for Peter. That’s one of several improvements made by show doctor Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, building on the original book by Taymor and Glen Berger,

Our introduction to Arachne is still beautiful, as women weave a glorious web of gold. But he changed role is now more integral to the plot. Whenever Parker falters or is sidelined by spending too much face time with his g.f., Mary Jane Watson, the lady appears, like the ghost in “Hamlet,” to spur on the would-be hero.

The basic Spider-Man comic book elements are still here: the early death of Uncle Ben, the closeness between Peter and his Aunt May (like most classic heroes, Peter has no biological parents to guide him) and the climactic battle between good and evil.

Technically, the show is a wow. The flying choreography by Daniel Ezralow is exciting, although orchestra patrons have to crane their necks for a good over-all view. George Tsypin’s overwhelming pop-up-book scenic design (his view from the top of the Chrysler Building is sensational) combines realism and cartoonishness in a sometimes uneasy balance, but the production looks its cost.

Replacing Taymor as director, Philip Wm. McKinley keeps things moving, not stopping for scholarly explanations, as Taymor had. He gets attractive performances from Reeve Carney as Peter / Spider-Man and Jennifer Damiano as Mary Jane. T. V. Carpio is a sympathetic Arachne, Michael Mulhern a blustery newspaper editor and Isabel Keating a warm Aunt May.

Did we mention that Patrick Page is worth the price of admission (well, almost)? That “Spider-Man” is easy to take? That kids will enjoy it?

It may not have been worth all the tumult, the cost, the aggravation, the bad feelings. Yet it’s a lesson that both Peter Parker and whose who wish to work and work on a show must learn: Never give up.

--David A. Rosenberg
June 16, 2011

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