Theatre Review: “Spider-man: Turn off the Dark” @ Foxwoods Theatre, 01/22/11

Disclaimer: I saw the “Spider-man: Turn off the Dark” on January 22, 2011 – which was a preview (technically I purchased my tickets when I was going to see the show after it opened, but they have since changed opening night twice). Also note that anything I write about can change before opening night, which is now March 15th, 2011. No press tickets were given; I purchased my own ticket.

First things first: get your tickets to see Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark as soon as possible. It’s worth every cent.

To be honest, I’m definitely going again in the future. Of course I want to see the changes, but the show is an incredible technical feat of epic proportions and it absolutely blew my mind. It’s a new type of musical, a new breed – where circus meets Broadway under the guise of a music concert. Julie Taymor has molded these elements together quite well. You can tell she’s still ironing out the details, but for a show with no out-of-town tryout, she’s doing a hellavu job and she should be 100% commended for it.

But let’s get something else out of the way – this isn’t a Broadway musical. This is an epic Vegas-styled event that just happens to be on 42nd Street and in a Broadway house. But, the fact that it landed on 42nd Street makes sense — after all, that stretch of the city is like a “mini-Vegas”. So don’t pretend your seeing Sondheim, Rodgers & Hammerstein or even Andrew Lloyd Webber — this is Julie Taymor and her creative team’s creation from the ground up. It’s never been done on Broadway and for that, you should buy a ticket.

The best seats in the house are the “Flying Circle” (mezzanine) — there you’ll get to see the most action and also see the forced comic-book perspective on the stage the best. If you are going to splurge, make sure you get those seats. In the orchestra you have to look up to see the flying which is probably pretty amazing from that vantage point, but also a little awkward. I was sitting in the third row of the balcony and Spider-man, at one point, landed on the edge of the balcony four feet from where I was seated. (That totally blew my mind.) The balcony (if you can get one of the first four rows) is a fantastic seat as well. You can see everything that is happening on stage. It was surprisingly a great seat! All of the tickets are a bit expensive, but honestly it’s totally worth it if your expectations are right. (It’s all about your perception walking in that door.)

Now, I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of the production — I’ll let Taymor, Bono, The Edge and the rest of the creative team do that, but I’ll give a few hints on what could be better.

Right now, the technical side of the show is brilliant but the rest of the show isn’t, so the book and music feels even weaker than it really is. The performances (by all of the leads) are equally being squashed by all of the technical demands of the show. Some shows, you walk away and you know that the material was lifted by a specific performer, like Alice Ripley in Next to Normal. In Spider-man you sometimes forget they are on stage. While, Spider-man has some great music and a pretty good plot, the show is all about the technical complexity of the flying sequences, set by George Tsypin and costumes created by Eiko Ishioka. It drowns out the rest of the material.

But again, think of the show as a Broadway-style Vegas event and then you won’t be disappointed.

I’m hoping that in the next two months, Julie Taymor, Glen Berger, Bono and The Edge can create a story that’s even clearer. I had trouble understanding a lot of the muffled lyrics, even though I could understand the general mood/plot line of the story. I also didn’t understand how Spider-man defeated the Green Goblin. I must have got caught up in the flying and totally missed that part of the plot. But, I loved how they weaved Arachne into the story and created their own plot instead of re-hashing the movie on stage. It was creative, inventive and overall it worked. With a few tweaks, it will be totally solid. (I’m still totally lost on the spider shoe number. What was that?)

The music, by U2’s Bono and The Edge, was really good! I loved all of songs that Arachne (T.V. Carpio) sang the most. The first song she sang was breathtaking against the beautiful flying yellow silk patchwork! Stunning. I’m really looking forward to hearing this music on a cast recording! Mary Jane (Jennifer Damiano) also soared on her solo in the middle of the second act. Spider-man (Reeve Carney) had some great songs as well. I loved “Bouncing Off the Wall” and “Boy Falls From the Sky”. The only time the music shined through was when there wasn’t anything technical happening on the stage – when there was a moment of stillness. That is when the music kicked ass. Otherwise, it blended into the background. Both, Bono and The Edge were at the performance I attended, taking notes, so I’m assuming that means that things will change.

For a musical that has gotten this much negative press, I have to say I was expecting a HUGE hot mess, but it wasn’t by any means. Yes, there’s work to do and yes, it wasn’t perfect, but Julie Taymor has pushed more boundaries with this show than anything I’ve seen on Broadway in the last decade and we should definitely congratulate her for it.

My favorite part of the night was the fact that Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark has created a new Broadway audience. Seated next to me on my left was two “Comic-con” enthusiasts and on my right – a twenty-somethings couple that was seeing their first Broadway show. I mentioned, at intermission, to the girl on my right that Bono and The Edge were seated over in the box seats and she had no idea who they were. I then started to describe U2, the songs they’ve sung and the fact that they wrote the music for Spider-man. Still, she had no idea who they were until I started singing, “With or Without You.” Then she said, “Oh yeah, I think I’ve heard that song. Well, I know everything about pop culture and the Jersey Shore.”Wow.

And there you have it: Broadway’s newest audience.


30 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Spider-man: Turn off the Dark” @ Foxwoods Theatre, 01/22/11

  1. Hey Spencer. I enjoyed reading your take on Spider-Man, but I have to strongly disagree with you. I only paid $30 for my ticket and I didn’t even think it was worth it. The thing is, this is Broadway, not Vegas, but even if I saw this in Vegas, I’d be disappointed. I liked the weaving scene, but that was the only stunt I enjoyed watching. And while I agree with you that it’s great if this show is getting new audiences to the theater, I’m not sure we should be applauding a show just because it has some flying sequences. I still expect a coherent plot.

    1. I didn’t have a problem with the plot — some things were a bit strange, but I got the overall plot just fine. Did you see it with the new ending? Because I hear that the new ending is a HUGE improvement from what they were doing before…

      1. No, I didn’t see it with the new ending. But the plot had no continuity and in my opinion, it needed a lot more than a new ending.

      2. I think the new ending was a huge deal! It ties Arachne back into the story but I’m still not too sure about the Green Goblin. Do you remember what happened to him?

      3. I went last night so I assume I saw the new ending. The entire Arachne storyline, in my opinion, is awful and completely unnecessary. It does bring her back into the plot (which i guess it didn’t before?) but to turn her into the final villain who wants Peter Parker to spend eternity with her is just plain lame. I could have really done without any of it. I did find it visually stimulating and impressive in that sense but that is about it. All the components of a good show are just not there. I’m thankful my ticket was free.

  2. I’ve never been to New York, and as much as i’ve wanted to see a show, I’m pretty sure THIS is the one that’s going to get me there. Thanks!

  3. First of all, I haven’t seen the show. And it’s highly unlikely that I will. But I have to say that your review kind of makes me sad. I’m glad that you had a great time, but for me theater is about so much more than the technical elements. I want an engaging story. I want music that I’ll love and lyrics that are both intelligent and intelligible. I want to be MOVED. A display of awesome technology apart from any of the rest will not do that.

  4. Sometimes entertainment is just that entertainment… but that doesn’t discount the overall awesomeness of the movie or musical. Not everything needs to be moving like “Next to Normal”.

    That’s why I say it’s all about your perception walking into the door. If you want to be moved, then you shouldn’t see this. If you want to be blown away by what they are doing on the stage, then definitely go see it.

  5. Amen to you sir! People need to stop being so closed minded. I mean I get that some styles are not for everyone, but who are we to say that one kind of Broadway show is inherently worse than a Broadway show just because the made it more about the visuals and less about the story/music? We as a Broadway-loving society have somehow decided that certain shows are a more valid expression of performance art than others, which is totally not fair! A show’s book and a show’s visuals are both art, and they should both have their chance to be the main event in a Broadway show.

  6. I’ll be in New York in February 2011. Is Spider Man:Turn Off The Dark appropriate for my 6 1/2 year old grandson.

  7. I saw the show a few weeks ago and couldn’t agree more with
    every single thing you’ve said. Not every show is going to be for
    every person. Not every show is going to be moving and deep. Would
    anyone really watch a Spider-man movie or read a comic expecting
    some kind of spiritual experience (no favors there, Oprah)? Why
    would they expect that from a Broadway-Spider-man? I didn’t go into
    the show with any expectations at all; I was just excited to have a
    discount code and had to see what everyone was talking about. In
    spite of myself, I kept finding myself uncontrollably grinning at
    the brilliant sets and costuming (truly visual art). The flying
    scenes were enthralling (I sat orchestra and agree that front mez
    would probably be best to really appreciate the sets and the
    flying). I was entertained almost the entire time. Is the book
    great? Not by a long shot. Is the music the best? I enjoyed it more
    than I thought I would, but it could be better (and the entire shoe
    scene needs to be cut immediately). I had a great time at
    Spider-man. I don’t think I’d like Mary Poppins…so I don’t go to
    see it. If people don’t think they’d like Spider-man, they
    shouldn’t go see it…but Spider-man is definitely not deserving of
    the level of criticism and negativity surrounding it.

    1. Actually, the Spider-Man story as originally conceived is quite moving. Peter Parker’s beloved uncle gets gunned down as a result of something Peter did. With his dying breaths, Uncle Ben impresses on Peter the credo that will shape his life from then on. This is powerful stuff. Too bad Julie Taymor apparently thought that it was lame and totally ignored the emotional core of the Spider-Man myth. Better to have someone singing about shoes, I guess.

  8. The difference between Spider-Man on Broadway, and
    Spider-Man in Las Vegas, is that the show is advertised with “music
    & lyrics by” and “book by” billed prominently – the main 2
    elements of a Broadway musical – both of which are weak and
    disappointing. If this show wanted to be considered as a circus or
    Vegas-style show that just happens to be playing in a Broadway
    theatre, the above the title credits should be “stunts created by”
    or “conceived by”, and should be subtitled as “a flying

  9. I’m not sure someone call call themselves a ‘reviewer’ with such poor command of grammar. Perhaps this ‘reviewer’ needs a secretary.
    Also, although anyone can fairly comment that a story doesn’t work or is confusing, few have the ability to remedy it. This reviewer seems to think it’s a matter of ‘tweaks’ (how I have that word) and adjustments by Taymor and her team.
    The problem is (and I’ve seen the show so I have some basis for this) that there was no actual writer on the show. The book writer is an essential part of any successful narrative-driven show (even if a ‘Vegas’ show). Taymor is a director. Therefore, her failure as a writer cannot suddenly be improved by observing how much the narrative fails. It would be like suggesting that a successful writer could suddenly become Julie Taymor (as a director) merely by wishing it.
    The flying is spectacular. Putting into the audience’s lap, and adding a narrative is what makes it better than Cirque du Soleil.
    But that’s not enough. This show will fail after about a year, due to the hubris of its makers in not recognizing the role of a writer in a show.
    P.S. The songs really are dreadful. But that’s another story (and their correction will also be avoided due to hubris. How do you replace Bono on a show he’s essentially founded, and in which he apparently is a major cash investor? Answer – you can’t.)

    1. John Hofbauer, I have to admit that I was very happy to spot your typo on “how I have that word” (I assume you meant hate?) because there is nothing more annoying than someone criticising a bloggers’ grammar. Really. Who cares? This said, I agree with what you’ve said about the necessity for a good writer in this kind of show. Then again, Ben Hur was a hugely successful stage show at the turn of the century with real horses and a real chariot race on stage, and its script is absolutely appalling. I think it ran for something like ten years. Spectacle is its own draw, and I’m definitely intrigued by the fact that nearly a hundred years later it still draws crowds regardless of what reviewers say or feel.

  10. I only paid $30 for my ticket last Sunday (well, plus the 2 hours in the rush line) and definitely thought it was worth that… but not much more. Would have been really disappointed if I had paid full price, at the show I went to we had a show stop during the final flying sequence and that sort of ruined the excitement of the flying for me. You’d think they would have worked it out by now? But I went in will very low expectations for plot, and the lack of plot didn’t particularly surprise me. Liked some of the music, but it was not memorable in general. Some scenes (the rather bizarre Arachne shoe scene, for example) came out of left field and made no sense. But it was worth the rush price to see it just because it’s a huge theatrical event right now.

  11. I saw the show last night, and let me say first thing: I completely disagree with your review. Maybe I’m a jaded New Yorker, but I am 17, have been seeing Broadway shows since I was 8, have been reviewing them professionally since I was 15, and have been acting and directing since I was 12. I have a very good sense of what makes a show work, and I know that it’s more than just having some actors fly out over the audience.

    The biggest flaw in your review (and many of the comments below it) is that you only look at the show from one perspective. Theatre is more than just spectacle; it’s about how all of the separate elements (plot, character, music, set, costumes, etc.) combine to make a coherent show. In Spider-man, these elements simply didn’t mesh the way they were supposed to. Just as you criticize many of the theatre critics for only focusing on the negative, it is impossible to write a fair review that only focuses on the positive. You simply cannot skim over the “nitty-gritty”.

    While I appreciate Taymor’s valiant attempt to break all boundaries of set and design (really, I do. As a director, I love the idea of breaking boundaries and pushing limits), Cirque du Soleil does not belong on Broadway, it belongs in Las Vegas (or in Madison Square Garden if it doesn’t want to move across the country). I found much of the spectacle thrilling (except for the very very VERY visible 360 harness Peter wears when he discovers his spider powers), but the plot and music were sorely lacking.

    N.B.: I am not an old grandma or a die-hard for Broadway tradition. When I go to the theatre, I don’t expect Rodgers and Hammerstein (my favorite musical is Spring Awakening) or to be deeply moved by the plot. I expect a good story, good music and good design that all work together. Broadway is supposed to be the one place where the best theatre in the world can be showcased. And Spider-man definitely doesn’t fit into this category.

    1. Nobody can professionally review at 15. Or direct at twelve. However your comments make a lot of sense.

      1. I’m glad you agree with my comments, but it is possible for one to professionally review at age 15 and direct at age 12. I have had multiple reviews of Broadway shows published for a legitimate publication (maybe professional was the wrong word choice), and one can direct at twelve if they’re able to read and analyze a play, form a creative vision and then actually stage the play.

        And please stop dumping on people’s qualifications. I don’t need you to tell me what I couldn’t possibly have achieved.

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