Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has played just over 100 preview performances. Even with that milestone past, the show came to a screeching halt five minutes or so before the end of today’s matinee.
After a battle (which was less than fierce) Spider-Man set Arachne free with his kiss. I suspect we were supposed to watch her ascend… instead a voice came over the sound system indicating that they needed to hold the performance. We could see an actress in a white flowing outfit behind a couple of the set pieces. Whatever was supposed to happen, we didn’t get to see it as they jumped forward to the show’s finale.
Maybe all performances of Spider-Man come with a technical issue or two just to keep it interesting.
I expected the worst headed into this performance. It’s clear the producers aren’t satisfied with their product (and they should be embrassed that they continue to present a show that doesn’t have its tech worked out). They’ve brought in a new director, a new book writer, a new choreographer and asked Bono and The Edge to come up with new songs . Thankfully, there were a few moments in the show that I quite liked. Most of it though was a mess.
So what did I like?
- The Act I number “Bouncing off the Walls” where Peter first gets a hint of his spider powers and he literally bounces off the walls of his bedroom.
- Sipdey’s frist flight through the theatre was spectacular. It gave me goosebumps. Sadly this was the only thing that moved me to that degree during the two and a half hours.
- Arachne’s flight through the theatre at the top of Act II was also incredible. Although I watched it more from a technical perspective and simply being impressed by the spectacle rather than having an emotional connection to what was going on.
- The show’s scenic deign in Act I I liked a lot. The pop-up-book-like sets were very cool.
Unfortunately, the story takes a back seat to the spectacle across the board. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has no heart and no soul. You simply don’t care about any of the characters as you’re not fully allowed to engage with them. Even the death of Uncle Ben early in Act I goes by so quickly you can’t even get moved by that. The show’s book has way too much going on as well: a bunch of comic book geeks trying to write a comic book (which is supposed to be what the show is, the book they’re writing), the origins of Spider-Man, Peter’s budding romance with Mary Jane, the creation of the Green Goblin, the hatred the Daily Bugle editor has for Spider-Man, and the whole Greek myth/love triangle thing going on with Arachne. It sounds like there’s a lot of story, but it all flies by so quick you never feel invested in any of it.
My feeling is that Julie Taymor was banking on the spectacle to carry the emotional impact of the show rather than creating a story with depth and power.
Unfortunately, the spectacle doesn’t always make sense. The villains, even common robbers, are made into cartoons. Occasionally comic book style flats fly through to stand in for villains and Spider-Man. There’s a huge use of video screens in Act II that is a visual disconnect to Act I. Setting is also confusing as there’s talk of the world wide web but there’s a steno pool in use at the Bugle. Sometimes there’s even multiple versions of Spider-Man on stage at the same time and I couldn’t decide if that was on purpose or some kind of mistake.
The music was extremely disappointing. It’s not good musical music. It’s not even good U2 music. You would think that at least one of the songs would stir some emotional impact. Not here. It didn’t matter how well they were sung, there just wasn’t anything to hang the emotion on. The closest it came was Mary Jane’s “If the World Should End” towards the end of the second act. The music isn’t helped by some horrifically bad sound design. I couldn’t understand anything sung in group numbers. Most of Arachne’s vocals in the Act II were muddy (and that was kind of okay because her bit of rapping was already laughable). Even some of Peter’s vocals were indecipherable at times.
A bright spot was also the actors. Leads Reeve Carney, Jennifer Damiano, Patrick Page and T.V. Carpio (who appears to be back from her whiplash injury) all give it their best shot. They’re invested in what they’re doing and each made the best of what they had to work with. I hope the revised script gives them something much better.
Will summed up things well during intermission. “Julie Taymor is the George Lucas of Broadway,” he said. You look at the genius she created with The Lion King and then look at where she is years later with Spider-Man. Look at the incredible work Lucas created with the original Star Wars trilogy and how utterly soulless the second trilogy is.
I doubt I’ll make a return trip when the show comes back from its hiatus next month. I don’t see how they can fix this without starting completely from scratch. I’ll certainly check the reviews to see what ends up on stage when (or I guess I should say if) the show opens on June 14.
Hopefully someone can rescue Spider-Man and give him the show he deserves.