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Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

This long-delayed Broadway musical based on the classic comic book character is more entertaining than genuinely thrilling.

By New York City
Patrick Page and Reeve Carney in
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
(© Jacob Cohl)
Patrick Page and Reeve Carney in
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
(© Jacob Cohl)
It's impossible to completely ignore the media firestorm surrounding the new Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, now at the Foxwoods Theatre, which has finally opened after months of delays due to highly publicized technical difficulties, cast injuries, and creative team shake-ups. And the final result -- much changed from its initial incarnation -- is a tourist-friendly production that entertains but rarely thrills.

Based upon the iconic Marvel Comics character, the musical tells the story of nerdy high school student Peter Parker (Reeve Carney), who after being bitten by a genetically mutated spider, gains super powers and uses them to fight crime. Along the way, he romances the girl of his dreams, Mary Jane Watson (Jennifer Damiano) and makes an enemy out of scientist Norman Osborn (Patrick Page), whose experiments led to Peter's accidental transformation.

The basic plot should be both familiar and predictable to fans of either the comic book or movie incarnations of Spider-Man. The final version of the script, which playwright and comic book scribe Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa revised from the musical's original book by Julie Taymor and Glen Berger (all three are jointly credited in the program), even includes some subtle nods to classic Spider-Man moments, such as the "Spider-Man No More" storyline from the comics, which was also an inspiration for the second film in the Spider-Man franchise.

The show's second act occurs after Osborn's own purposeful metamorphosis into the villainous Green Goblin, and the musical gives an interesting -- and brand new -- origin for the group of villains known as the Sinister Six: Carnage (Collin Baja), Electro (Emmanuel Brown), Kraven the Hunter (Christopher W. Tierney), The Lizard (Brandon Rubendall), Swarm (Sean Samuels), and Swiss Miss (Laura Beth Wells).

Former employees of Osborn, the group now has powers that are derived from the same process that gave Spider-Man and the Green Goblin their abilities. (In the case of Swiss Miss -- who brandishes dangerous-looking metallic armaments -- it's a little unclear how Osborn's research into genetics resulted in her creation, as her powers seem primarily cybernetic.)

In addition to co-writing the book, Taymor is credited with original direction, although more recently Philip Wm. McKinley, listed as creative consultant, has been overseeing the production. Among the more engaging sequences is an aerial weaving of a large tapestry in the show's opening moments, as Peter gives an oral classroom report about the Greek goddess Arachne (T.V. Carpio), who later becomes a kind of mystical advisor to Peter.

Also exciting are the much talked about flying sequences above audience members' heads, with actors landing on ledges and in the aisles (all of which happened without a hitch on the night I saw the show). Spider-Man's aerial battle with the Green Goblin is particularly well done. (Aerial choreography is attributed to Daniel Ezralow, while aerial design is by Scott Rogers and aerial rigging design is by Jaque Paquin).

George Tsypin's stylish scenic design, with its use of forced perspective and cartoon-like environments, gives the production a welcome visual pop, although Taymor's mask design and the costumes by Eiko Ishioka are less satisfactory, and sometimes downright garish.

Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano in
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
(© Jacob Cohl)
Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano in
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
(© Jacob Cohl)
Another disappointment is the music, which seems far below the level of quality that might be expected from Bono and The Edge, the leaders of the superselling band U2. The pop ballad, "If the World Should End," sung by Mary Jane and Peter, is the standout in the score, and there's also merit to the soulful anthem, "Rise Above." But too many of the other numbers blend together into a more generic sound. Not helping matters is the muddiness of the sound quality within the theater that makes it hard to make out many of the lyrics.

Carney cuts a dashing figure as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, but he doesn't infuse the role with much personality. He indicates his character's emotional states instead of delving into Peter's conflicted feelings. Damiano fares better, infusing a sense of longing into Mary Jane that helps to flesh out her slimly written role. Page delivers nicely as the first act Norman Osborn, but plays a little too broadly as the Green Goblin in the second act. Still, he's hilarious in a sequence when the Goblin is put on hold at The Daily Bugle when trying to call in an ultimatum to Spider-Man that he wants the newspaper to print.

With a price tag of more than $75 million dollars, the musical is the most expensive to ever be produced on Broadway. The final result doesn't really seem worth the cost, but it's far from the disaster that some critics reported during the show's earlier preview period. And while it's doubtful the musical will recoup its losses with a lengthy Broadway run, it's the kind of spectacle that seems custom-built for a Las Vegas engagement.


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