Traditionally, Broadway shows are not to be reviewed until officially opening. Since the opening for SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK continues to push into the void, I’m hardly the first to review it while it’s in previews “working out the kinks.”
But with great power, comes great responsibility. So as many critics have already published their scathing reviews of the musical, I feel I too have a great responsibility to agree that the Broadway debut of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is an all-out disaster.
SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK piles one problem on top of another faster than a lame U2 rock riff.
PROBLEM: The show’s “structured” around a “geek” chorus of four teens. Not even five minutes into its bizarre opening, their annoying “what would Spidey do” ramblings bring the show to a screeching halt.
PROBLEM: The music sucks. And I’m a big U2 fan. But I’m sorry, this is really bad stuff from Bono and The Edge. Not even the worst B-Side from Zooropa bad. Ballads that are in no way moving, rock numbers that are in no way rocking and lyrics are not only unintelligible, but unintentionally funny.
PROBLEM: The book sucks. In fact, how the “plot” was even approved by Marvel defies more logic than the stunts defy gravity. Is it an origin story? Is it a team-up of super-villains? Is it a chance to bring Greek mythology with Arachne serving as a high-brow connection for a non-geek theatre-going crowd? It’s all of them, and a few others I lost count of.
PROBLEM: $65 Million Dollars worth of ambition can look like $1.95 if the fails outweigh the wins. With its massive video walls, intersecting wire-work and constantly moving set pieces, the musical is lucky if it goes even 75% right in a single performance. During the show I saw, Spidey took a nasty looking SLAM into the First Balcony light fixture at the end of Act One. Sure, there are at least 5 more guys in costumes backstage to take his place, but at a certain point actors equity has to pull the plug.
PROBLEM: Julie Taymor and Marvel Comics don’t mix. Her grotesque angular masks are used randomly to represent generic characters like “purse snatcher” or big villains like Kraven the Hunter. They look like nothing you’ve seen before in the Spider-Man universe, and that’s not a compliment. What worked for Lion King was Disney’s strong story structure that Taymor wasn’t allowed to venture from. As Disney now owns Marvel, they would be smart to look into protecting Spider-Man in the same way.
PROBLEM: Forced perspective set design is about the only thing that works for the show. That is until they start using miniature versions of Spidey scaling cardboard buildings. And where are they now, the little people of Stonehenge.
As mentioned, SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK hasn’t officially opened (it has been put on hold a total of six times), and the show’s creators are said to be working on revisions. But, at a certain point, the show’s creators have to take a giant step back and realize there are bigger issues than just musical arrangements and sound quality.
Will you get chills whenever Spidey and friends soar over the heads of the theatergoers? Sure. Maybe, about the first time it happens. But after that, the sense of wonder turns quickly into a sense of “somebody’s gonna get hurt.” The show is simply not as strong as the wires swinging its actors up into the balconies. By the time you get to the big stunt work, it’s way too late for spectacle.
Audiences are paying up to $500 a ticket to see this fiasco. I was lucky enough to see it for free, so I’m guessing it’s like overpaying for Cirque du Soleil and getting Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Live. For a much more rewarding train-wreck, get your tickets to Charlie Sheen’s Radio City Music Hall appearance on April 8th.