Happy New Year!
I just spotted the Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark review that you posted and I feel obliged to chime in with my two cents. I saw the show in the beginning of December. It was a birthday present from my roommate who got rush tickets for it with his girlfriend. I want to point you in the direction of this “Spiderman Monologue.” It’s my 15-minute description of Watching Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark which was played on the WFMU Radio Station this past Monday, January 3.
Here’s the audio -
And here’s the site for the radio show -
This Spider-Man musical is a must see. It is also the worst musical I have ever seen on stage or otherwise. (what do I mean by that?)
It may be the most impossibly wrong-headed portrayal of Spider-man or any superhero, but it also captures some sort of strange essence of Peter Parker and the heart at the center of this character. Unfortunately that essence is barely there. Taymor and co. (Bono & the Edge) commit some really unforgivable crimes against Theater, Comic Books and Basic Human Decency. And against audiences. Shouldn’t a Spider-man Musical be as unpretentious and audience friendly as possible. What’s the deal, Julie?
The Music is incomprehensible. Bad U2 music X10. The Plotting is incoherent. The first half is a whacked out adaptation of the First Spider-Man Movie. The Actor playing J. Jonah Jameson is essentially doing an impression of J.K. Simmons. Good performance, but still just an impression. They give Green Goblin a “Spider-Man 2 -esque Dr Octopus’s Wife-esque”, wife character. They also smudge over the death of Uncle Ben in a poorly staged on-stage car crash that does little to Illustrate Peter Parker finally understanding that with Great Power comes even greater responsibility. That botching really bothered me. Earlier in the show, just thinking about how Uncle Ben was gonna die caused me to tear up. Musicals get me emotional. The Holiday season gets me emotional. I started thinking of Spidey in relation to George Bailey. Two guys who made a whole town better, not because they wanted to, but because they knew they couldn’t live with themselves if they didn’t do the right thing. Do the right thing, Mother******!!!!!
Occasionally the musical approaches the notion of whether the spider-bite made peter parker Spider-Man. It’s actually a pretty important undercurrent of the show that is never really explored properly, by the participants. It wasn’t the bite that made Peter Parker Spider-Man. The bite gave him a chance to be a larger than life hero, but it was his basic decency and sense of right and wrong, mixed with the willingness to act that made him a hero. ”There’s a hero inside of all of us”? No. Not really. But some people are heroes, waiting to be awakened.
I got to comment on a point or two in the other review. The reviewer talks about the back and forth scene between Peter and his Aunt Uncle Juxtaposed with MJ and her dad. It’s a great idea, but when I saw it, it was delivered terribly. Maybe it’s gotten better since then, but at the time I saw it, it was amateur hour. Amateur hour in a $65 million production. At many points I felt like I was watching a rough draft in a dress rehearsal. $65 million years in the making.
The other reviewer also seems to have enjoyed the geek characters, whom Ms. Taymor employs as a type of Greek chorus or shall we say “Geek Chorus.” (Before she randomly tosses them out of the play in the second act.) I found them terribly offensive caricatures of geeks, nerds, feminist asian girls with cute(dumb) funny hats and pop-culture enthusiasts of all stripes. They overplay their parts, argue unconvincingly and perpetuate a irritatingly unrealistic, unfunny portrayal of the fans. The fans whom I think the producers would want to come to this show. And the show starts off by insulting them? Yes. Yes, my precious sensibilities were insulted, Ms. Taymor!
Ya know the show looks incredible. This is fact. Not good or bad- Incredible. AMAZING. The stages are amazing. Some of the design is dumb, but there’s no denying the awe-inspiring nature of it all and there’s a palpable sense of danger. Actors seem nervous when they sing. Dancers look worried when they move. If they miss their mark, it’s oblivion!
Reeve Carney is wonderful as Peter Parker. And Jennifer Damiano broke my heart as MJ. And when it’s just her singing one or two of the more simple songs in the show, it feels like a great show. Like something really special. Unfortunately these performances are nearly canceled out by all the sound and fury! And that’s what really bugged me. As I watched these kids I was reminded of West Side Story. And I thought about how the heightened emotions and the singing in a broadway show can really bring out the loneliness and confusion of being a teenager and I realized that Spider-Man could have been a great musical. But this show is too much. I mean keep the stunts! But lose the out of control plotting and inconsistent story structure. At one point Arachne (Weird Taymor addition brought in from Greek Mythology) has her spider lady creature minions sing a song about shoes. No one I have talked to knows why they sing about these shoes! And in the second Act Taymor seems to break down and realize that she’s directing a spider-man musical and has Arachne fly up over the audience and say – “Noone in this town respects me as an artist!” Huh? What? Brilliant…
The second act also features a weird menagerie of villians sporting the worst character designs in the history of superhero adaptation. The Lizard looks like Barney the Dinosaur. The Carnage design might actually be brilliant, because it just shows how retarded the character is. And then there’s Swiss Miss. I don’t even know what to do with that one. The Villians are paraded out in a grotesque fashion show. I felt like I was in a scene from a movie. Like you know how in movies or TV shows characters will watch alternate reality versions of movies. This felt like one of those movies. This show is something that shouldn’t exist in our reality. But it does. It does! Life moves away from reality during this show. You leave the theater transformed. At least I did. Most people were frowning. Confused. Mid-western families on vacation in New York, who couldn’t explain what they had just seen. Kids dancing around. And the undeniable hook of Boy Falls From the Sky reverberating through my head-skull.
I stood in the lobby watching everyone exit the theater. Trying to get my peek into their minds. I caught the idea of the cute girl selling Spider-Man Turn off The Dark shirts. I walked over to her.
“What do you think?” – Spidey Sales Girl.
“Did you see that?” – I asked.
“I saw it last night.” – She informed me.
“What did you think?” – I had to ask.
“I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it.” – she was compelled to answer.
I told her that I felt the same way.
Ya know everytime the show comes close to getting Spider-Man it backs off.
BUT What is Spider-Man? I guess in the end Spidey is what we make of him. He’s ours. The whole wide world’s. He belongs to everyone and is everything. Spider-man is for the ages.
Please listen to the audio. But words really can’t describe my experience of watching Spider-Man on Broadway. I want to go again. I met someone involved in the production a week or so after I saw the show. He told me that they were changing things in the show almost every night and when the show gets released after previews, it’s gonna have a completely overhauled ending. (which it needs. Some characters and through lines disappear and are never resolved. Not that you really care… You’re just very aware of them disappearing.) The way he described Taymor and Bono and the Edge pissed me off. They’re playing with all this money, like it’s nothing. I guess it’s hard for me. I love this mish mash of excess and stupidity, but I hate the wastefulness. The effort resulting in a crappy (Weird and Wild as Hell) but downright crappy product.
Good Luck out there!
It’s snowing in New York and I can’t see out my window! I think I might try to get rush tickets to See Turn off the Dark again. Maybe twice this weekend.
If you use this call me Clome or Dr. Richard Walker. (Years ago I sent in an Apocalypto review under that name)
P.S. I talked to Reeve after the show, Ya know when you wait in line to get autographs at the back door. He’s impossibly nice and looks almost like an alien up close and has a really interesting fashion sense. He said the show’s a lot of fun to be in. That’s nice. He’s a talented kid.