Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Spidey_3Patrick Page in the role of the Green Goblin. (Photo by Jacob Cohl)

NEW YORK – Has any musical in the history of Broadway had a more difficult aborning than "Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark"? None comes readily to mind even from a longtime rialto chronicler like me. As you are probably aware, "Spider-Man" is a musical version of the popular Marvel comic book hero, created in 1963, from which there was a series of hit movies beginning in 2002 directed by Sam Raimi.

Basically, "Spider-man" tells the story of a nerdy Queens high school student, Peter Parker (Reeve Carney), who, on a school trip to a science fair, is bitten by a radioactive spider. The bite gives him arachnid powers, which allow him to leap miles in the air, attach himself to buildings and expel spidery webs from his wrists. Peter lives with his Aunt May (Isabel Keating) and Uncle Ben (Ken Marks). His uncle’s senseless murder by a neighborhood thug causes Peter to employ his new-found superhero powers to avenge his uncle’s death, and subsequently, to be launched toward a more lofty mission to rid the world of all bullies and thieves.

Several years ago, director Julie Taymor, who turned Disney’s "The Lion King" movie into a successful world-wide theatrical franchise, was hired to work her magic on "Spider-Man." Irish pop group U2’s Bono and The Edge came on board to compose the score, and investors raised an unbelievable $65-75 million to capitalize the endeavor, making "Spider-Man" the most expensive show to ever hit Broadway.

Unfortunately, hubris seemed to haunt the venture from the start of previews last November. There were myriad technical problems and multiple cast injuries, many of which required hospitalization, and all were tallied daily in the New York city tabloids. Opening dates were pushed around so many times that critics became chagrined and finally just purchased tickets on their own as a public service to the future ticket buyer. What they saw and wrote about "Spider-Man" the next morning was not favorable and did not please the show’s investors and presenters. Only then did the "Spider-Man’s" lead producers, Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris, dismiss Ms. Taymor and her team and replace them with a new director, Philip William McKinley, to try to tame the chaos. Mr. McKinley, whose main claim to fame is staging Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, is billed as "creative consultant."

A three week hiatus ensued for doctoring and triage by a new book writer, Roberto Aquirre Sacasa, and additional choreography by Chase Brock. "Spider-Man" opened officially in mid-June – after almost eight months of previews – another Broadway record.

The result was as you might expect: a patchwork affair, a hodgepodge of Taymor artistry, now leavened by a healthy dose of humdrum but more coherent storytelling. This new Taymor/McKinley hybrid "Spider-Man" never really jells into cohesive and satisfying entertainment. What saves the evening from being completely lusterless are some fantastic aerial feats by a fleet of Spidermen and an Act Two showstopping fight scene between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, which takes place over the audience’s heads. It is a moment of incomparable theatrical excitement.

But the rest of the time, the show too often gets stuck in sloughs that are no way enhanced by Bono’s and The Edge’s mostly uninspired vanilla score or the new dances by the fledgling Mr. Brock, whose choreography is equally unimpressive.

The young, energetic cast does everything in its power to breathe some life into the work. Mr. Carney is impressive as Peter/Spider-Man; as his girlfriend Mary Jane Watson, Jennifer Damiano is sweet and effective. Both have excellent singing voices. Patrick Page, a fine actor, is just O.K. in the dual roles of Norman Osbom and the Green Goblin, mainly because he doesn’t have that much to do in either role and Colin Bath does all of the Green Goblin’s flashy aerial feats. As Peter’s newspaper editor, J. Jonah Jameson, Michael Mulheren is broad and funny and milks whatever humor is in the show.

The only person who seems to have gotten everything right in "Spider-Man" is its scenic designer, George Tsypin, whose designs of New York City are simply astonishing works of art. They capture the story of Spider-Man and the Gotham he inhabits with exceptional brilliance from a multitude of vertigo-inducing and ever-changing angles. If the rest of the show were as artful as Mr. Tsypin’s contribution, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" would be a winner.

Addendum: It should be noted that "Spider-Man" has been doing over $1 million a week at the box office, and I am told future ticket sales are brisk. It seems very popular with families and tourists both American and foreign. Whether "Spider-Man" ever will turn in a profit is questionable since its running costs also are over $1 million dollars a week.

"Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" is at the Foxwoods Theatre on West 42nd Street. Information can be found online at spidermanonbroadway.com.

 

Bernard Carragher lives in New York and covers the arts and entertainment.