SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK became somewhat notorious during it’s planning stages and in it’s unheard of, record breaking for all the wrong reasons, seven months of previews. After temporarily closing, permanently ‘parting ways with’ the director Julie Taymor (Lion King), and being re-written and re-tooled, the show was still plagued by critical railing, and several injuries within the cast. Yet, somehow, this show has become a pop culture phenomenon. When I was presented with the opportunity to see the show during my trip to New York City, I decided to go in with an open mind and see what all of the hype was about.
As I walked into the Foxwoods Theatre on 42nd Street near Broadway I immediately noticed how new the theatre looked compared to the other houses in the legendary theatre district. I was correct in that observation. The Foxwoods Theatre was built in 1998 on the spot that once held the Lyric and Apollo Theaters. The former theaters fell into disrepair and were demolished in 1996, but parts of the houses, including their facades, a dome and proscenium arches were disassembled and incorporated into the new theatre.
My first impression upon taking my seat was, “Wow, this is one hell of a set up!” There is more lighting than I have ever seen in a traditional theatre, and the proscenium is built out a good 25 feet off the top and stage left sides of the arch. There are ‘webs’ moving through the extended stage that seems to seamlessly blend with the rigging that extends across the ceiling of the theatre.
Now on to the big question, was the show good? In a word, yes, but (and you knew there was a but coming) it has a weak point that no musical should have, the music. One of the much publicized aspects of this show was the soundtrack, but while the orchestrations, by U2’s Bono and The Edge are cool and complex, they are unfortunately a bit too complex (and arguably too cool) for the subject matter. This is, after all, not the dark Spider-man of Hollywood, this is the comic book Spider-man.
Peter Parker is played by the very talented and very handsome Reeve Carney. His vocals are haunting and powerful, and his stage presence is timid (he is playing a nerd after all) but commanding. The show’s comic relief is in fact it’s villain, Green Goblin. Granted, he is a very effective comic character and is brilliantly portrayed by Robert Cuccioli. Spidey’s love interest Mary Jane Watson is played by Rebecca Faulkenberry, she is incredibly strong vocally and also has a commanding stage presence. Her duet with Carney in Act 2, “If The World Should End” is one of the two strong musical theatre numbers in the show, the only (yes, I mean only) other, is “Bouncing Off The Walls” in Act 1.
The real stars of this show lie beyond the acting, music and singing, in fact, they are the production’s saving graces. This show combines some of the most incredible staging, lighting, aerial acrobatics, and overall spectacle I have ever witnessed. In fact, never have I seen so many elements blend so seamlessly together. The first time Spider-man soars over your head and lands on the mezzanine, or when he and Green Goblin fight it out while flying above the seats, your jaw will hit the floor.
After it’s re-tooling, SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK has had no problem with ticket sales, in fact, it has broken attendance records. The show has a lot to offer the main stream entertainment seeker, but to the high-strung musical theatre audience, SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK will fall short of expectations. Thanks to a strong cast, mind-blowing special effects and the incredible stunt-work, I liked it!
Heading to New York City? You can catch SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK at Foxwoods Theater on 42nd Street near Times Square, tickets and information are available at http://spidermanonbroadway.marvel.com