I waited 10 hours to write this so that I could fully process my thoughts and opinions on last night’s preview of Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark. Our seats were perfect: fifth, sixth, and seventh seats off the aisle in the second row of the mezzanine (aka “Flying Circle”) and I highly recommend sitting in the Flying Circle if you’re thinking about seeing this show. The energy in the theatre pre-show was electric and the theatre was packed, with a cancellation line outside. Everyone was excited to be there and to witness this theatrical phenomenon. Lead producer Michael Cohl stepped out onto the stage before the first act started and apologized ahead of time for any stops there might be, explaining that they are still working out the technical kinks. There will be lots of spoilers, so if you read on, be prepared.
So, I thought I walked into the wrong theatre for the first ten minutes of the show. The show starts with the story of Arachne, a fantastic weaver who angered Pallas Athena, the goddess of crafts, so Athena turned her into what was the first spider. Then the scene changes to MJ being tied up on a building and Spiderman running to save her. We then segue into a classroom of the “Geek Chorus” who are essentially writing this story and pop in and out of the plot throughout. My favorites were Gideon Glick and TV Carpio (from Across the Universe). Problem #1: The Geek Chorus is fine at the beginning, I suppose, but they do nothing but stop the action through out the rest of the show and they’re unnecessary. I’m sure they’re being woven into the action is to allow for costume and set changes, but there has to be a better way. They really, really made the show drag. Regarding the mythology that Taymor inserted into the first part of the show, it also made the show drag and I could tell that no one around me cared. Problem #2: I think the show needs to start off with a bang of some sort and not a lesson in Greek mythology.
The song title Bullying By Numbers has been given just because it kind of sounds cool. There are no numbers in the song, at least not that I heard or saw. Matt Caplan is, as always, obnoxious and annoying as MJ’s boyfriend Flash who also likes to torment Peter.
Bouncing Off the Walls is Peter Parker’s first foray into the world of being a spider and it’s a lot of fun. He jumps around the walls of his room and wins the wrestling match that everyone knows from the movie (I’m assuming it’s in the comic book too, but I’m not sure).
The awesome: There are a few great flying scenes in the first act, but the mindblowing scene is his fight with the Green Goblin at the end of the first act at the top of the Chrysler Building. Spideman lands on the edges of the balcony AND mezzanine, as well as in the aisles of the orchestra. He fights with the Green Goblin above the orchestra and it’s magical. Everyone behind us (and it was the adults too, not just the children) was in awe, exclaiming, “That is SO cool!”
Problem #3: The third problem is the (almost) entirety of the book for the second act. It doesn’t come from the comic book or the movie, it’s entirely made up and it makes little sense, if any at all.
The entr’acte is Spiderman flying around and saving people, while simultaneously angering MJ because he is always late to meet her and he never has a good excuse. He tosses his suit in the garbage, saying farewell to being Spiderman and the city goes up in flames and into chaos. The Geek Chorus leads an ‘ugly pageant’ of the six villains that are introduced into the show, The Sinister Six, in addition to seeing the Green Goblin again. Problem #4: The Sinister Six (comprised of Carnage, Craven the Hunter, The Lizard, Electro, Swiss Miss, and Swarm - the last two were made up entirely for the show) really serve no purpose. The waltz across the stage once or twice, sing the song “Sinistereo,” and then Spiderman ends up fighting their digital versions.
Arachne is also re-introduced as a spider and banishes the Geek Chorus and proclaims that her and her six back-up spiders are going to tell the rest of the story. Problem #5: When it is announced that there is looting, Arachne and her spiderwomen get excited and they loot shoes - lots of shoes. This song (which was called either “Think Again” or “Deeply Furious”) served no purpose and was really ridiculous. Why was the audience being made to watch half-a-dozen spiders sing a song about shoes? Cut it.
MJ’s song towards the end of Act 2, “If the World Should End,” is really pretty and was one of my favorites. Jennifer Damiano did a great job with it. The next song, “The Boy Falls From the Sky,” which was the song Reeve Carney performed on GMA a few months ago, is really great as well. It’s really dark but has a great melody. The electric guitar riff that’s played during much of this number is also really prominent throughout the rest of the show (which is good, because I liked it a lot).
Problem #6: The end of the show. It’s completely anti-climactic and a bit disappointing. MJ discovers that Peter is Spiderman and says she won’t leave him. We hear sirens and she tells him to, “Go get ‘em, tiger,” as Kirsten Dunst does at the end of one of the movies. He runs off-stage to go save the city we assume, and then they drop down a curtain with the Spiderman logo on it, and blackout. What?! He needs to do one last round of serious flying as a finale.
The scenic design. It looks like the sets were pulled right off a comic book page and they’re epic, obviously. They move and change, and do it all quite quickly and smoothly. They’re really stunningly beautiful. During the fight at the top of the Chrysler Building, the audience is meant to be seeing a birds eye view of the fight, so we’re looking down the Chrysler Building, and they even went as far as to show the taxis passing buy on the ground ‘below,’ which was a neat tidbit.
The special affects. There were crew members all over the stage, but they do a REALLY good job at hiding them due in part to their costumes and due in part to clever lighting. My favorite really subtle special affect was the flyer that hits Peter’s leg informing him of the wrestling match. There was a crew member who had the flyer on a stick but you couldn’t see him, except for maybe a moment. It was very subtle and neat.
Reeve Carney, Jennifer Damiano, and Patrick Page (as the Green Goblin) are obvious stand-outs in the cast. Carney and Damiano fully embody the emotional growth that their characters go through, and Page is just entertaining as hell.
The flying. Duh. This is why everyone is coming to the show. They want to see the cast flying around the theatre. What they do is amazing but they should add more of it.
The projections: There are lots of projections and they’re all really interesting to look at, and watch. They’re a darker version of what was in Across the Universe. The projection of the Green Goblin once he takes over the the airwaves looks a little too much like Jigsaw from “Saw” though.
The last few criticisms. I think the cast needs to work on annunciating the lyrics because oftentimes you can’t understand what they’re saying. I don’t know if Carney is being told to sing with a really raspy and gruff effect to his voice, but if not, someone needs to step in and ask him to change this. The lead guitarists in the orchestra stand on a house left panel the entire time, which I think is meant to make the show seem really hardcore and rock and roll, but they just look a little awkward onstage. I heard kids walking out of the theatre telling their parents that they didn’t like second act, so I hope Taymor’s been hearing that when she’s been in the house too.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the show. There was no stopping either, and it clocked in at 3 hours. The score isn’t incredibly memorable but it isn’t bad either and it’s very U2-sounding. I can only hope now that Taymor is in her plush apartment re-writing the book to the second act and maybe staying a bit truer to the comic book or movie because I’m pretty sure that’s what people want to see.