Broadway Review: Spinning a new, improved Spider-Man

Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano in "Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark." (AP Photo/The O&M Co., Jacob Cohl)
Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano in "Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark." (AP Photo/The O&M Co., Jacob Cohl)
Posted: June 14, 2011

NEW YORK - Spider-Man has taken a quantum leap.

Yeah, I know, Spider-Man is supposed to do that, that's his job. But we're talking about Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the most expensive show in Broadway history (about $70 million), the butt of jokes for its many mishaps, the record-breaker for its failure to come out of previews, the mess trashed by critics, the source of intrigue for its ouster of original director and cowriter Julie Taymor.

The Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark that opened, finally, Tuesday night at Broadway's Foxwoods Theatre (I saw last Thursday's critics' preview) is not the musical that strangled in a web of stillborn one-liners, mythical aspirations, and convoluted, ho-hum plot. That Spider-Man is dead.

The new Spider-Man is all for fun, a live-on-stage comic book, pure and simple - precisely what the last version wasn't, and what its team, on hiatus for several weeks of rewrites and rehearsals, reimagined. It will by no means assume a spot in the pantheon of great Broadway musicals, but it's now far more than a tortured curiosity. It has humor, and winks gamely at itself. It has flight sequences that make sense, are not repetitively tiresome and, most of all, work technically. (The show was getting to be like a NASCAR event, with spectators hoping for trouble.)

The new Spider-Man saves its best shots for the right moments: Flying and other fast action (sometimes animated, sometimes real) come when it makes sense in the storyline. It has well-placed kisses between Peter Parker, who is the human side of Spider-Man (handsome Reeve Carney, with a Jimmy Dean face and a hug-me vulnerability) and his gal Mary Jane (alluring Jennifer Damiano, with an innocent face and a hug-me disposition).

It has a delightfully menacing Green Goblin (Patrick Page, milking all his now richly scripted nastiness). It's equal parts save-the-world and love story. Like a good comic-book hero, this Spidey is human one frame, superhuman the next, root-worthy in both.

While the show I saw in February came across as trying way too hard, this one is organic, if sometimes unsteady. The first-act setup takes too long and the second act is too long, period; the music (now slimmed down and strengthened by bandmates Bono and the Edge) sometimes gets in the way.

The aerial choreography by Daniel Ezralow can be thrilling, but some of the dancing seems perfunctory amid such impressive design; George Tsypin's sets, Kyle Cooper's projections, Eiko Ishioka's costumes, and Donald Holder's lighting often come together to great effect.

Julie Taymor has been gone from her hot seat since March. (Philip Wm. McKinley, who assumed directorial responsibility, was also at the helm of Philadelphia Theatre Company's musical Nerds in 2007.) But Taymor is well credited in the current show, and her stamp remains all over it, particularly in the first act. Now, three writers are listed - Taymor, her coauthor Glen Berger, and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who has written Marvel Comics.

Gone is Taymor's evil mother-earth spider, now a benign mentor to Peter Parker - and T.V. Carpio is all the more convincing in this incarnation. Michael Mulheren remains as the wonderfully sleazoid Daily Bugle editor, stronger in his hewn role, too.

"Transformation! Transformation! That's the key if man is going to survive!" declares genetic enhancer Norman Osborn, who becomes the Green Goblin. Man's survival? I don't know. For Spider-Man, though, it sure was the key.


Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or hshapiro@phillynews.com.

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