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The Skinny on Spider-Man

TheaterMania untangles the web of classic, pop culture and theatrical traditions that have gone into the making of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. logo
A scene from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
(© Jacob Cohl)
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which continues in official previews at the Foxwoods Theatre, is one of the most talked about musicals both in New York and around the country. The show has not only landed on the cover of The New Yorker and been fodder for late night comics' opening monologues, but it's also become one of the top-grossing shows on Broadway. Lost in all the hype, however, is the fact that Spider-Man is an intriguing stew of classic, pop and theatrical traditions, being put on stage by a host of veteran artists. Here are some things you may not know about the character, the show, and its cast and creators.

How old is Spider-Man?
The character of Spider-Man was first seen in August 1962, in issue #15 of Marvel Comics' Amazing Fantasy, the final edition of a comic book series, which until that issue had been dubbed Amazing Adult Fantasy. The character was created by writer Stan Lee and designed and drawn by Steve Ditko. The issue turned out to be one of the biggest sellers for the relatively young publisher. The following spring, the character was featured in a book bearing his name: The Amazing Spider-Man. From these origins, a franchise was born that has grown to encompass animated cartoons, a hugely successful movie franchise, and even a collaboration in the 1970s with another comic book publisher, DC Comics: Superman vs. Spider-Man.

Who is Arachne?
In the musical, Arachne (played by T.V. Carpio) is instrumental in getting young Peter Parker to embrace his alter-ego as Spider-Man. In Greek myth, she's a mortal woman who is incredibly adept at weaving. Unfortunately, she doesn't believe that her talent is a gift from the gods, and thus angers Athena, who challenges her to a contest at the loom. After the competition with the goddess goes badly, Arachne attempts to kill herself, but Athena spares her, turning her into a spider.

What are the Sinister Six?
In Spider-Man, the famed villain The Green Goblin (played by Patrick Page) is featured prominently in the musical. However, the show also boasts a sextet of other villains with whom Spidey must do battle -- The Sinister Six -- who include these foes from Spider-Man's history:

  • Carnage: a psychopathic serial killer whose powers, created by an alien Symbiote, are warped versions of Spider-Man's;
  • Kraven the Hunter, a man obsessed with stalking and killing prey, who gets his super strength from a concoction of jungle herbs;
  • The Lizard, a scientist who transformed himself into a reptilian humanoid while experimenting with limb-regeneration;
  • Electro, a supervillain who gained the ability to control electricity after being struck by lightning;
  • Swarm, a one-time Nazi sympathizer whose body is comprised of bees - the result of an encounter with a colony of mutated bees in South America after World War II.

The sixth member of the group is "Swiss Miss," a villainess who was created by bookwriter and director Julie Taymor. The villain's powers lie in her ability to launch a fearsome number of lethal blades -- much like a Swiss army knife.

Julie Taymor
(© Brigitte Lacombe)
What did Julie Taymor do before Spider-Man?
Taymor first achieved fame directing such Shakespearean plays as Titus Andronicus, The Tempest (both of which she has subsequently turned into star-filled feature films) and The Taming of the Shrew Off-Broadway. Her Broadway debut came in 1996 when her Obie Award-winning hit, the experimental musical Juan Darién: A Carnival Mask was revived at Lincoln Center Theater's Vivian Beaumont Theater, earning five Tony Award nominations, including Taymor's first two: for Best Direction of a Musical and Best Scenic Design. In 1988, became the first woman to win Best Director of a Musical for her work on the still-running Disney hit The Lion King in 1998 and returned to Broadway in 2000 with The Green Bird, which she had originally presented Off-Broadway.

Has George Tsypin ever designed for theater?
Much has been made about Tyspin's eye-catching scenic design for Spider-Man. While he is better known for his work in the worlds of dance and opera than he is on Broadway, Tsypin is no stranger to the theater. His Off-Broadway credits include JoAnne Akalaitis' productions of Shakespeare's Cymbeline and Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 at the Public Theater; he made his Broadway debut with Akalaitis' staging of In the Summer House at Lincoln Center Theatre, and was most recently represented on Broadway with The Little Mermaid.

Who is this guy playing the Green Goblin?
While Tony Award winner Alan Cumming was first tapped to play the role, he withdrew from the production last year and was replaced by Broadway veteran Patrick Page, whose Broadway credits include the title character in Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and Scar in The Lion King. However, this actor is not only renowned for portraying the baddies in musicals, but he has a strong background in the classics, having appeared in such diverse works as Richard II, The Duchess of Malfi, Cyrano de Bergerac, Love's Labour's Lost, Macbeth, and Othello. And in real life, he's really nice!

What's the big deal about flying in the theater?
Much has been made of the extraordinary flying effects being employed in Spider-Man. And while the stunts are impressive, the concept of performers overhead is nothing new to the theater. The Greeks employed a crane device known as "mechane," which would enable Gods and chariots to descend onto the stage. In the early Renaissance, an elaborate piece of machinery known at the "paradiso" was introduced to help characters fly in religious plays. And in the early 20th Century, a group known as Kirby's Flying Ballet introduced some of the basic principals for flying performers that are still used today, so much so that the lines that support actors are often referred to as "Kirby Lines." Today, flying is used in other Broadway shows, such as Mary Poppins, as well as in the ever-popular Peter Pan.

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