For all of the hype and hemorrhaging, SPIDER-MAN, TURN OFF THE DARK turns out to be alot of fun.
Don’t expect to see Bono and the Edge rubbing elbows with Stephen Sondheim any time soon, though. The crew’s score is probably the weakest link in this opus (Foxwood Theatre on 42nd between 7th and 8th Ave in NYC). It’s Julie Taymor‘s brilliant vision for Spidey’s theatrical debut, as realized by an amazingly athletic cast, that make this new production a guilty pleasure that just might make back its $75 million capitalization.
Fans of THE LION KING and the movie Across the Universe will recognize Ms Taymor’s touch as soon as the house lights dim. We meet Peter Parker in school, where he’s delivering a book report on the Greek goddess Arachne. Turned into a spider by the jealous Athena, Arachne serves as a leitmotif, literally hanging over the entire evening. T.V. Carpio, the actress who played Prudence in Across the Universe, does a terrific job in the part– especially when you consider she spends the entire show eighteen feet off the ground.
After school, Peter gets beat up by school bullies in a scene right out of the "I Want You’ number from the aforesaid Beatles movie. Balinese puppets are Ms Taymor’s thing, and the weird way she uses these forms in SPIDER-MAN proves a nice fit with the comic book sensibility of Marvel’s most famous hero.
Remember the TV Batman— with the Pop Art "Pows!" and "Bangs" intercutting fight scenes?
In her rumbles, choreographed by Daniel Ezralow (another "Across the Universe" alum), Taymor doesn’t stoop to these cliches. Her eye is subtler and, ultimately, more satisfyingly congruent with the comic book world being brought to life here. Those big puppet heads are a keen example. The set and costumes, by George Tsypin and Eiko Ishioka respectively, take that vision still further.
Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano give it their all as Parker and Mary Jane, Spidey’s love interest. While the first act takes a while to get up to speed, the plot satisfies. Fans of the movie franchise will recognize a combination of elements from the first two films. Industrialist Norman Osborn still becomes the psycho Green Goblin, but there’s no son this time; he’s a scientist working with his devoted wife, like in Spider-Man 2 (the one with Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus). Patrick Page has a nice turn as the creepy Osborn; and when he gets his goblin on, he’s a fright.
Much has been made of the dangerous flying sequences in SPIDER-MAN. They are pretty thrilling. An entire chorus of look-alike Spideys careen off the stage walls, fly through the audience, land in the balcony and even engage Green Goblin in aerial combat. Credit is due to Phil McKinley (a Starlight Theatre vet), who must have taken Taymor’s gigantic vision and brought it down to show biz scale and size– and, most important, made it an achievable eight shows a week. What you get is a Cirque du Soleil show, but with characters you know and a rock and roll score compliments of U2 (the band even makes it into the show– at one point, an onstage radio blares one of their hits to nice comic effect).
The question on everybody’s mind is– how do they come out on this junket?
SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK is in a large theater- the Foxwood seats 1,813, second only in Broadway size to the Gershwin, where WICKED holds court. It’s grossing $1.3-1.5 million a week. If it costs $1 mil to run (which may be more than 50% more expensive than any other show on Broadway), that means the investors make $500,000 a week. Do that for a year and you’re up $20 mil. Do that for four years and you recoup. There are plenty of Broadway musicals that took 200 weeks to make their money back; SPIDER-MAN.. TURN OFF THE DARK may one day join that august group.
Til then, it’s going to be a wild– but entertaining– ride.