“With great visually effects, comes poor story telling.” This is quite simply the new phrase that Uncle Ben should tell his nephew Peter Parker – better known as Spider-Man. After months of delays, several injuries, extreme budget expansions, and a new production team, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is now officially open on Broadway. However, the question lingered, “Was it all worth it?” And, the answer simply is “no” – that is unless you are a twelve-year-old boy!
While billed as an original story, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark basically tells the exact same story as the first mega-blockbuster hit movie. Peter Parker is known throughout school as the science nerd who is hopeless in love with his next door neighbor Mary Jane Watson. While on a field trip to the Osborn Labs – home of the famous chemist Norman Osborn – Peter is bit by a mutant spider. The rest, as they say, is history. Peter becomes Spider-Man, Norman transforms into the Green Goblin, Mary Jane becomes a Broadway actress, and all three meet in a life or death finally. Along the way, some minor new details are placed into the show. The mythological creature of Arachne spins through the story as Peter’s new conscience and several villains are added to test the skills of Spider-Man (The Lizard, Swiss Miss, and more). In the end, can Spider-Man save both the city and those that he loves? Well of course he can! He is still Spider-Man after all – just now complete with vocal chops.
Featuring one of the largest Broadway casts, this Marvel Comic Book musical has several leading players; unfortunately, many of them give performances that do not leap of the stage and grab the audience’s attention. The cast is led by Reeve Carney, the lead singer of the group Carney and star of Julie Taymor’s The Tempest. Carney delivers a likeable performance. While the audience never fully commits to his character [which is a problem when playing the title character], Carney has a great rock voice that blends perfectly into the only two rememberable songs of the show – Rise Above and Boy Falls From the Sky. With lackluster acting, his voice is truly the force driving his portrayal of the Amazing Spider-Man. Opposite him is leading lady Mary Jane, portrayed by Jennifer Damiano of Next to Normal fame. With decent acting chops and strong vocals, Damiano does her best with a part that is written to work against her. Weak songs and an underdeveloped character unfortunately left her to fend for herself – and she does a pretty darn good job! The true talent and star of the show is the always brilliant Patrick Page (How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Lion King) as the Green Goblin. Page delivers a truly remarkable performance – stopping the show several times due to huge laughs and/or gasps from the audience. His ability to be hilarious one minute and downright scary the next is truly remarkable. This talent leaves this version of the Green Goblin in the same category as Hades from Disney’s Hercules and Jack Nicholson’s the Joker from Batman. If there is one reason to run out and see this musical, it is Patrick Page! Also, while her role has been scaled back, T.V. Carpio (Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe) still shines as the spider goddess Arachne. Great vocals and a stunning opening sequence that has her flying high in the shy amidst a self-woven human curtain, Carpio delivers a nice performance that had the audience connected from start to finish. As stated before, this musical boots one of the largest cast sizes Broadway has ever seen. Each one of these performers is high energy and gives 100% to a show that only offers the audience 50%.
With more creative minds than three shows combined should ever have, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark should be a flawless technical show; however, this is far from true. When sitting through the show, one can get the sense that the audience, while enjoying the overall spectacle, is begging for more. Songs that sound like they were written by a bad U2 cover band, direction that was torn between theatrical and storytelling, and a script that sound like a wanna-be comic book writer was behind it, all lead to the ultimate down fall of this musical. Except for a choice few, the songs written by U2’s Bono and The Edge fall short of that classic U2 sound (an original U2 song was even added to boost Act II along). The direction of both original creator Julie Taymor (The Lion King) and new advisor Philip McKinley (The Boy From Oz) still has huge gaps in between creative genius that is filled with, for lack of a better word, goop. Some scenes, however, do shine –the funeral scene for Uncle Ben set to the song Rise Above shows just how powerful this piece of theatre could have been; using wonderful pictures to create a scene that is truly breathtaking. This particular scene as well as many others pop due to the stunning design work of George Tsypin (The Little Mermaid) and Eiko Ishioka (Academy Award winner for Bram Stoker’s Dracula). Tsypin’s stunning scenic design looks as if pages were ripped straight out of a Spider-Man comic book. They are high tech and probably led to some of the budget issues that the show faced; however, they were well worth it! Ishioka’s costume design was bright and bold, fitting perfectly into the storybook world created by Taymor’s mask design and Tsypin’s scenic design. It is a shame that this musical was not rehearsed a bit more before opening. With some minor direction corrections, small edits to the script, and a slight overhaul on the music, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark could have been a truly spectacular show. It, sorry to say, falls short of the razzle and dazzle it was expected to be.
Even with all of the negative in the review, it is hard to completely tell audiences to avoid this musical all together. Here is what one needs to know before buying tickets. If you are going for a great story and hit songs, Wicked might be more up you alley. However, if you are a huge comic book fan or you simply want to see something that has never been done on Broadway before, then head out to go see this show. With stunning flying stunts (and a dramatic fight battle high above the sky) and gorgeous scenic and visual elements, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is not all bad. It will defiantly release your inner twelve-year-old boy!Review By: Ryan Oliveti & Courtney Labbossiere