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A CurtainUp Review
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

See also Marvel Comics and Spider-Man
If man is going to survive, he's going to have to transform.— Norman Osborn, the Frankenstein-ian scientist-cum-Green Goblin.
T.V. Carpio as the now downsized Arachne and ensemble members in "Behold and Wonder." (Photo: Jacob Cohl)
Spider-man and the Green Goblin Reeve Carney and Jenniffer Dammiano demonstrate the variety of the show's flying sequences.
(Photo: Jacob Cohl)
Okay, let's put down the knives and stop gossiping about the accidents, the phenomenal cost. . . the whole backstage drama that has made Spider-Man Turn off the Dark one of the most talked about, long previewing musicals in Broadway history. The endlessly publicized jump-the-official opening-gun reviews after the third postponement last February pretty much trashed the show as an unfocused mess, with a hard-to-follow book, undistinguished songs and technical glitches. But they didn't keep ticket sales from booming during what seemed like a permanent preview run. At one time sales actually topped Wicked, another show geared to multi-ticket buying family audiences. It all pointed to Spider-Man Turn off the Dark being a critics-be-damned survivor.

But the producers were not blind to the show's problems and decided to heed the advice of Norman Osmond, the scientist who caused Peter Parker to become Spider-Man and himself metamorphosed into the Green Goblin: "If man is going to survive, he's going to have to transform." And so in March they put Julie Taymor's baton in the hands of a new director with circus experience, Philip Wm. McKinley. To help Taymor's co-scriptwriter Glenn Berger realize his ideas for a simpler narrative, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a playwright and erstwhile Marvelcomic book writer, was brought aboard to help transform the mega-millian invalid into a show sturdy enough for a long life, not dependent on the paparazzi gossip factor to keep the box office buzzing.

Now the show is officially out of rehab. Spider-Man Turn off the Dark IS frozen. At last Friday's press preview, the Foxwood Theater was packed with critics like me who opted to wait for the show to be officially frozen and also brought back many of those who deemed it unfixable for another look (Spotted among the formr were Michael Feingold and John Simon; chief among the latter were the New York Times trasher-in-chief Ben Brantley and The Washington Post's Peter Marks).

Okay, enough with the background. Here's my take: Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark is not the best musical ever, but there's nothing messy or confusing about it. It's an enjoyable, easy to follow, fairly traditional romantic all-ages musical, with a hero rooted in an iconic comic book character to add the sort of fantasy that lends itself to all manner of stage glitz.

The romance is between high school nerd Peter Parker and Mary Joe Watson, the girl next door. The adventure entails his acquiring cling-to-the-wall, high flying super powers and web shooters able to fire off deadly strands of gloop. All this the result of being bitten by an irradiated spider. (The show's Less deadly paper strands at one point land in the laps of the audience).

Mr. Berger and Roberto Aguirre-Sarcasa have managed to replace or repair the Julie Taymor plot elements and characters that muddled clarity and undermined the drama. A narrating Geek Chorus that came in for most of the negatives was completely deleted. The mythical goddess Arachne, who apparently upstaged Spider-Man in the earlier version, has been downsized into an occasionally appearing, benign guardian angel. She still gets to sing the quite lovely "Behold and Wonder." The staging of that song, which includes seven female ensemble members suspended from filmy sashes, is Lion King gorgeous. It makes it clear that this show doctoring is not as complete a transformation as that advocated Norman Osmond and executed via his own transformation into the scary Goblin.

The extensive surgery and scene re-arranging notwithstanding, Taymor's gift for creating breathtakingly imaginative stage pictures has not been tossed into the rubbish. The Taymor touch is also still evident in her maskS; George Tsypin's futuristic folding and unfolding sets; Daniel Ezrolow's athletic choreography; Kyle Cooper's scene enhancing projections and Eiko Ishioka's eye catching costumes; the whole ZAP! POW! SPLAT! comic book look.

The transformed musical benefits enormously from director Philip Wm. McKinley's extensive experience with circus productions. The accident prone flying sequences that made the previews newsworthy in all the wrong ways, now seem to be reasonably accident proof, even though still daringly close to the audience. What's more, once Peter emerges as Spider-Man, there's still enough of this gasp-inducing, head-turning soaring from stage to balcony and back to give audiences the circus-y spectacle they expect..

Spider-man and the Green Goblin
Reeve Carney and Patrick Page
(Photo: Jacob Cohl)
As for the performances, no complaints there. Reeve Carney is a charmingly nerdy Peter Parker, first as a much bullied high school boy and later as a free lance photographer for the headline-hungry editor of The Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson (outstandingly portrayed by the always reliable Michal Mulheren). Carney exhibits robust physicality when he becomes Spider-Man and goes "Bouncing Off the Walls" in a stunning dream sequence. His voice is well suited to the Bono-Edge score, as is that of Jennifer Damiano who does well by his girl friend Mary Jane Watson. The entire cast, many in multiple roles, perform with unflagging energy and commitment. But the superstar of this superhero extravaganza is the villain as played with camp-y insouciance by Patrick Page. No wonder the rejiggered script didn't allow him to die at the end of the first act and thus expanded his role and saved the big battle with Spider-Man for the second act..

If Page's terrifically funny penultimate rendition of "I'll Take Manhattan," accompanying himself on a wonderfully weird green piano sounds more like a tune from an old-fashioned leave-them-humming musical, it is. That enduring, hummable hit was penned by Rodgers and Hart, not Bono and The Edge. Which brings us to the famous rock musicians' contribution and some other reasons Spider-Man Turn of the Dark is entertaining and but not musical theater perfection.

The musicians as conducted by Kimberly Grigsby do their best to make the Bono/The Edge score more suitable to musical theater than a rock concert. The already mentioned songs, as well as a few other numbers like "The Boy Falls From the Sky," do work as show tunes. That said, the music overall is not superstar quality, but more loud than laudable. The Foxwood's musically inhospitable sound system and the extreme miking rob even the excellent love duet "If the "World Should End" of its sweetness.

Excess also diminishes some of the scenery's wow! The images just keep coming at you to the point of overkill. The obviously new tongue-in-cheek references to the New York Post gossip columnist's relentless putdowns during the Daily Bugle scenes would best disappear if and when the show survives all its bad press. Furthermore, the references to the Bugle's competition from the Internet and Facebook don't really jibe with what appears to be a different era (as indicated by the women pounding out copy on portable typewriters rather than laptops or I-Pads). Fortunately Mulheren's editor Jones is so good that this out of synch stuff is no more a major misstep, much like Page's campiness.

Ultimately, the "doctoring" Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark has undergone has made it into a show with enough going for it so that it may well keep Peter Parker soaring to the Foxwood's rafters for a healthy run, even if not a record breaking old age.

But hold on. That golden age may still be in the show's future.

On the very day of Spider-Man 2.0's opening, The New York Times published an interview with Bono and Edge by Patrick Healy, a Times scribe who's done his bit to feed tidbits about the show's backstage travails to a gossip loving public. In that interview Bono is quoted as declaring the musical to be " just 90 percent complete." As the now actively involved superstar sees it, 10% of additional changes involving the relationship between Peter Parker and the Green Goblin will be done this summer.

Bono didn't say who the superhero would be to point a web-shooter at the currently frozen show and unfreeze it yet another time, and a second official opening. Maybe the Spider-Woman in the Cirque du Soleil's Zarcana over at Radio City Music Hall?

For anyone interested in Spider-Man's history as the superhero of 40 years of Marvel comic books that inspired Spiderman Turn of the Dark, read my background feature following the production notes is just a click away: Marvel Comics and Spider-Man

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
Lyrics by: Bono and The Edge (of U2)
Music by: Bono and The Edge Book by: Julie Taymor, Glen Berger and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Original Direction/Mask Design: Julie Taymor
Creative Consultant: Philip Wm. McKinley
Cast: Reeve Carney (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Jennifer Damiano (Mary Jane Watson),. T.V. Carpio (Arachne), Patrick Page (Norman Osborn/Green Goblin), Michael Mulheren, (J. Jonah Jameson) Ken Marks (Uncle Ben, Buttons, Viper Executive, Ensemble), Isabel Keating (Aunt May, Mrs. Gribrok, Maxie); other cast members in various roles: Jeb Brown, Matthew James Thomas, Laura Beth Wells, Matt Caplan, Dwayne Clark, Luther Creek, Kevin Aubin, Gerald Avery, Collin Baja, Marcus Bellamy, Emmanuel Brown, Jessica Leigh Brown, Daniel Curry, Erin Elliott, Craig Henningsen, Dana Marie Ingraham, Ayo Jackson, Joshua Kobak, Megan Lewis, Ari Loeb, Natalie Lomonte, Kevin Loomis, Kristin Martin, Jodi McFadden, Bethany Moore, Kristen Faith Oei, Jennifer Christine Perry, Kyle Post, Brandon Rubendall, Sean Samuels, Dollar Tan, Joey Taranto, and Christopher W. Tierney. Choreography/Aerial Choreography: Daniel Ezralow; Chase Brock, additional choreography
Scenic Design: George Tsypin
Costume Design: Eiko Ishioka
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Sound Design: Jonathan Deans
Projection Design: Kyle Cooper
Aerial Design: Scott Rogers
Aerial Rigging Design: Jaque Paquin
Projection Coordinator/Additional Content Design: Howard Werner
Arrangements and Orchestrations: David Campbell
Musical Supervisor: Teese Gohl
(Music Producer: Paul Bogaev
Music Direction: Kimberly Grigsby
Music Coordinator: Antoine Silverman
Vocal Arrangements: David Campbell, Teese Gohlk, Kimberly Grigsby
Additional Arrangements/Vocal Arrangements: Dawn Kenny, Rori Coleman
Stage Managers: C. Randall White, Karl Coleman Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, which includes one 15-minute intermission
Foxwoods Theatre 213 West 42nd Street
From 11/28/10; opening 6/14/11
Tuesday - Thursday @7:30pm; Friday and Saturday @8pm; Wednesday @1:30pm; Saturday @2pm Sunday @3pm
Ticket Price: $67.50 - $140.00
Closing 1/04/14
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on June 10th
Musical Numbers
Act One
    The Myth of Arachne/ Peter
  • Behold and Wonder/Arachne, Ensemble
  • Bullying by Numbers/ Peter, Bullies, High School Students
  • No More / Peter, Mary Janc
  • D.I. Y. World /Norman, Emily, Peter, Mary Jane. High School Students, Lab Assistant
  • Venom /Bullies
  • Bouncing Off the Walls/Peter, High School Students
  • Rise Above /Peter, Arachne, Ensemble
  • Pull the Trigger /Norman, Emily, Viper Executives, Soldier
  • Picture This / Peter, Mary Jane, Norman, Emir
Act Two
  • A Freak Like Me /. Green Goblin, Ensemble
  • If the World Should End/ Mary Jane, Peter
  • Sinistereo /Reporters
  • Spider-Mang/ Citizens of New York
  • Turn Off the Dark / /Arachne, Peter
  • I Just Can't Walk Away /Mary Jane, Peter
  • The Boy Falls From the Sky/ Peter
  • I'll Take Manhattan /Green Goblin

Marvel Comics and Spider-Man
Peter Parker House
The actual house where Peter Parker live with his Aunt Ben and Aunt May
(Photo: Elyse Sommer)
Until Marvel Comics writer-editor Stan Lee and writer-artist Steve Ditko created Spider-Man, teenaged characters were usually side kicks, like Batman's Robin. As conceived by Lee and Ditko, the character who made his first appeared in the August 1962 issue of Amazing Fantasy #15 was .conceived as an orphan being raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben. The idea was to give him a double life (like Clark Kent and Superman). Thus Peter Parker had to deal with the normal struggles of adolescence in addition to those of a costumed crime fighter. For the latter role his creators gave Spider-Man super strength and agility, the ability to cling to most surfaces, shoot spider-webs using devices of his own invention which he called web-shooters, and use his "spider-sense" to react to danger quickly and. combat his foes.

To add to the reality of the easy to identify with Peter Parker, his everyday life was set in a specific location — 20 Ingram Street, in New York's tree-lined Queens neighborhood of Forest Hills. The atmosphere and look of Forest Hills High School had less of an inner city atmosphere and look than Midwood High. (It's also this writer's alma mater, as well as that of numerous show biz folks like Simon & Garfunkel).

Peter Parker House
Less forbidding looking than Midtown High school-- Peter Parker's actual high school more small town USA than Inner city, Forest Hills.
(Photo: Elyse Sommer)
Marvel featured Spider-Man in several comic book series, the first and longest-lasting of which is titled The Amazing Spider-Man. Over the years the Peter Parker character has developed from shy, high school student to troubled but outgoing college student, to married high school teacher to, in the late 2000s, a single freelance photographer, his most typical adult role. He has even been a member of an unofficial splinter group of the Avengers, one of Marvel's flagship superhero teams. The story dialogue has often referred to Spider-Man as "Spidey," "web-slinger," "wall-crawler", or "web-head."

One of the most popular and commercially successful superheroes ever, Spider-Man placed 3rd on IGN's Top 100 Comic Book Heroes of All Time in 2011. His multi-media appearances include animated and live-action television shows, syndicated newspaper comic strips and a successful series of films starring actor Tobey Maguire as the "friendly neighborhood" hero — and of course, currently, in the 9-years-in-the-making, $70 million dollar Broadway musical.

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