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Theater Review: "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" On Broadway

Katie Buenneke |
December 17, 2011 | 10:05 p.m. PST

Theater Editor

 

 Jacob Cohl)
Jacob Cohl)
"Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" is not a bad musical. It's not Pulitzer Prize-winning material or anything, but it's certainly not terrible. It is, at its heart, cool. After all, in what other show on Broadway can you see one of the main characters using another as a human wakeboard over the heads of the audience? "Spider-Man" is pure spectacle, but boy oh boy, does it deliver the spectacle!

The musical serves as a sort of origin story for the famous web-slinger, much like the first movie in the Tobey Maguire franchise. Peter Parker is a dorky kid who is secretly in love with his neighbor, Mary Jane Watson. He gets bullied constantly and doesn't know what to do about it until he is bitten by a genetically-modified spider created by Norman Osbourn's Oscorp. The spider bite helps him realize an extraordinary set of abilities. As he makes these discoveries, he is guided by Arachne, the spider-woman of ancient Greek tradition. In the mean time, after Osbourn's wife dies as he genetically modifies himself, the newly-born Green Goblin vows to destroy anything and everything he can, giving Spider-Man his greatest foe yet.

Certainly, the book (by Julie Taymor, Glen Berger, and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa) is flawed and occasionally downright boring (more action, less exposition, please!), and some of the songs are a little atrocious (I'm looking at you, "Pull the Trigger" and "A Freak Like Me Needs Company" — who thought that the lyric "I'm a $65 million circus tragedy" was a good idea?), but the show is stunning. The entire aesthetic is larger-than-life and really quite pretty.

The show has undeniably improved greatly since the first incarnation that appeared in previews a year ago. "Spider-Man" may have the most dedicated cast on Broadway; even (well-publicized) hospitalization can't keep the performers from returning to the show (in fact, Matthew James Thomas, the actor playing Peter Parker at the show I saw, was hospitalized just over a month ago due to injuries incurred during the show). Kudos should be given to all those involved who have stuck with the show through its extremely bumpy ride to where it is now.

It is important to understand that "Spider-Man" is not really a musical. It is more of an amalgam of a comic book, a big-budget movie and an amusement park ride — an amalgam that just so happens to have music and lyrics by Bono and The Edge (from U2). An audience going into the show expecting a traditional Broadway musical will most likely be let down.

The show is not flawless, given the aforementioned problems, in addition to the fact that often, the choreography (by Daniel Ezralow et al.) has little to do with what is actually happening in the songs (though it is inventive and interesting) and many of the performers have pitch problems. The sound design, by Jonathan Deans, is occasionally muddy and unbalanced, but most of the show went off without a hitch. However, the show manages to "rise above" its flaws, so to speak, and is ultimately an enjoyable experience.

One of the amazing things about art is that it's not just about how technically good a piece is; it's about how it makes the audience feel. "Spider-Man" is able to evoke the slack-jawed inner child that marvels at every superhuman feat. In its own way, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" does something astounding in that it gives the audience the gift of naiveté — in the best sense of the word.

Reach Katie here or follow her on Twitter @kelisabethb.

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