Since I wasn’t able to check out the first preview of “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark”, I had a guest writer, Sean O’Conner, write up his experience on the, already infamous, first preview. Keep in mind, it’s a first preview and many thing will change before opening on January 11th, 2011.
It’s finally happened. Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark has finally played a public performance on Broadway. This production has faced many challenges on its journey to this evening. Many in the theatrical community, including myself, doubted whether or not this Julie Taymor production would ever open in New York. I’m glad to report that spectacular, innovative and interesting things are happening at Broadway’s newly renamed Foxwoods Theatre. Spider Man does not officially open until January 11th, 2011 and much fine tuning needs to be done before then. The show is far from perfect but it sure is a lot of fun! This is easily the most ambitious theatrical endeavor I have ever witnessed both in spectacle and story, but Taymor is very close to a finished product that could become the event of the season.
The book by Taymor and Glen Berger is surprisingly complex. Most of America already knows the story of everyman high school geek Peter Parker (played by the attractive Reeve Carney) who is bitten by a special spider and wakes up the following morning with superpowers. Taymor and Berger go a little deeper and add some new twists to the classic original story which opens the show. Spider Man must then face his most famous foe, Dr. Norman Osborn aka the Green Goblin (Patrick Page) and an array of other villains all while trying to win the heart of classmate Mary Jane Watson (Jennifer Damiano) The story could use some clarity, trimming and a much better ending but overall it’s entertaining and surprising. It’s far from just the feature film onstage with music added.
The score by U2’s Bono and The Edge is currently the weakest aspect of the production. Creating a full fledged musical score is quite a bit different than writing a collection of songs for an album. It’s clear these rock legends are a bit out of their comfort zone. The songs all had a very bland, almost muffled, feel to them. They seem disconnected from the rest of the action and rarely further the plot or give the audience any information about the characters. The song “D.I.Y. World” in Act 1 is currently the worst offender. It would maybe be wise to edit the score to become similar to a film’s soundtrack since it already feels like it’s trying to be that anyway. Since Spider Man feels like more of an “event” than a “musical” I don’t think the wonky score will end up hurting it like it might another show. Lets put it this way, the show won’t close because of this problem, but the Tony Award for best score will definitely not be going to Bono and The Edge.
The cast, led by Carney, is solid all around. Patrick Page stole Act 1 with his piano number, “I’ll Take Manhattan” (aided by a clever ad-lib in response to some technical difficulties). I was sad his character didn’t have much stage time nor a great death scene in Act 2. I wanted to see Spider Man defeat or at least DEAL with the Goblin. As the ending stands now, The Goblin remains loose to terrorize the world. Jennifer Damiano does a fine job with the little material she’s given as Mary Jane Watson. She definitely continues to prove she’s a special talent with her crystalline vocals. I had expected Mary Jane to be the musical’s leading lady. That honor goes to the character “Arachne”, played by Natalie Mendoza, who ends up carrying a great deal of the second act. Her character is involved in the shows most dazzling effects and she is given the most challenging vocal part. Mendoza managed to tackle her difficult part while flying around the theatre the entire show. She was airborne more than Spider Man himself! (Poor Natalie was stuck in the air for 10 minutes during a hold, and the stage manager went on the god mic and asked the audience to give her a hand for “hanging in there”.) I wish they would expand Isabel Keating’s role as Aunt May. Her veteran presence graced the show with a major touch of class and professionalism.
The real reason to attend Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark is to witness the magical and original stage craft, but we all already knew that. The flying sequences are truly remarkable. I imagine the spectacle will be enough to get an audience in building. The sets by George Tsypin and costumes by Eiko Ishioka are the stuff of theatre legend. You can see the money on the stage and it will take your breath away. Since I was a young boy in the theatre I have always appreciated good stage craft and would frequently imagine special effects in my head. Taymor has done nothing but turn her ultimate dreams into reality, and for that she deserves our respect and praise. Well done Julie!