Review: Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
After six months of previews, a three-week shut-down to incorporate rewrites, numerous accidents and injuries among the cast and the departure of its original director, Julie Taymor, the Spider-Man musical finally opened on Broadway last night.
I suppose that it is some kind of triumph for so desperately troubled a show to have made it to opening night at all. But I cannot see this hugely extravagant production surviving long on the Great White Way, especially with running costs of a million bucks a week.
Though now slicker and more comprehensible than it was in February when I and many of the American critics broke the embargo and attended a preview, this remains a stubbornly unlovable show that never comes close to matching the thrills, the humour or the emotional depth of the Spider-Man movies.
And then there is the score by Bono and The Edge of U2, with barely a single memorable tune, and a constant feeling of déjà entendu as they raid the riffs of their back catalogue. This is rock music at its most ponderous and overblown and now sounds well past its sell-by date.
Phillip Wm. McKinley, Julie Taymor’s replacement as director, though only billed as creative consultant, and a new scriptwriter, Marvel Comics veteran Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, have dumped many of Taymor’s sillier ideas. The “Geek Chorus” of nerdy adolescents who seemed to be making up the story as the show went along has been mercifully consigned to oblivion, while the baffling and pretentious appearances of the Greek mythological figure Arachne has been much reduced and now almost make sense. Better still, the role of the Green Goblin, a brilliant genetic scientist transformed into a malignly comic mutant has been beefed up and is played with splendid sinister relish by Patrick Page.
In a new song, A Freak Like Me, one of the very few in the show that reveal a touch of wit rather than overblown angst, he describes himself as “A sixty-five million dollar circus tragedy,” his leering grin leaving little doubt that he might just as well be describing the show as himself.
Indeed in a nice ad-lib he adds, “actually it’s more like $75 million now”, a reference to the musical’s constantly escalating budget.
But in one respect the show is now less fun than it was at previews. Then spectators were constantly on the edge of their seats, wondering whether it was going to go wrong and another luckless actor would take a tumble into the orchestra pit or be left dangling motionless over the stalls.
Now the show proceeds with well-drilled efficiency, with Spidey and the Green Goblin flying confidently over the heads of the audience and up to the balcony. But it isn’t nearly as exciting as the best stunts by Cirque du Soleil, There are confident performances from Reeve Carney as the young, strong-voiced super-hero and Jennifer Damiano as his sexy, spirited Mary Jane. But despite the undoubted improvements, the show never soars into greatness, or leaves the audience in a state of disbelieving wonder. Indeed, despite all the time and money that have been lavished on it, Spidey actually turns out to be a bit of a bore.