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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" Review

I have to admit that the concept of a Spider-Man musical sounded a bit silly to me, even as someone who enjoys musicals and spent a good portion of my childhood pretending I was the quick-witted web-head.  To say I didn’t go into the show with low expectations would be a lie, and I think that a lot of less fair-minded people who went in with the same expectations may have picked the thing apart in hopes that their vision of an extravagant flop with a huge budget would come true. 

There may be resentment towards the show because “it’s not very Broadway” (the words of an off-Broadway performer whom was sitting near me).  Instead, it is a hard-rock-cirque-du-soleil-action-tragedy and classifying it as anything less than a spectacle is a disservice to what was achieved in the Foxwoods Theatre.  Even as seven minutes short of the ending tragedy struck with one of the performers being hurt, except for an extremely small minority of disgusted individuals who stormed out of the orchestra seats, the buzz around the audience was one of amazement and concern all-in-one.  The applause that ensued was not just to encourage an injured performer below the stage, but one of an audience which was enthusiastically impressed with the show itself.

Early on in the show it was clear something special was going on.  Taymor’s approach seemed to be to tie a piece of our modern mythos onto the Greek myths of old and then double-knot the entire thing with nods to both fans and classic literature enthusiasts alike.  The “Geek Chorus” replacing the Greek Chorus of many other Greek tragedy plays, having only a pseudo-existence in the story itself and working outside of it as observers, is a reference that let me know something special was going on here.  This wasn’t just a show for kids; it was going to throw literary elements into all of the action and pizzazz.  The introduction of Arachne as main antagonist sealed the deal, and although it’s a story we’ve heard before (forbidden love, and all that) it’s never been done with Spider-man and that’s what makes the difference; a childhood fantasy reaching its peak.

Carney wears the mantle of Peter Parker well, certainly accomplishing “underestimated genuine geek” as well as any other portrayal of Spider-Man in other mediums, and his voice is very different for Broadway.  Carney belts out the rock score with a unique style that is satisfying and refreshing.  Jenn Damiano carries leading lady exceptionally well and has a stunning voice of her own that couples well with Carney’s.  She is believable as both the young MJ and the aspiring-actress MJ, and the love story between her and Peter hits an immersive peak in Act II.  Natalie Mendoza’s voice and the amazing effects that often accompany her appearance as Arachne can be enthralling, and the sexual tension created with Carney (in mid-air, no less) is still sexy even with the contrast of her having four extra spidery arms.  Patrick Page’s emotive power as Southern-drawlified-Goblin is great, and is an interesting take on the character that goes from believably good to believably evil incarnate.  Crazy-evil is so hard to do well, and the piano on the Chrysler building is a great show of Page’s talent.   What really puts the show over-the-top for me is the score, which is like a giant exclamation point on a sentence that was already being heard without it.

Taymor’s touch on the Spider-Man mythos, combined with this fresh cast is an exciting leap forward, propelling superheroes into a bit higher culture.  It is only my hope that the technical difficulties are worked out, because this show deserves to be successful and the cast and crew deserve a lot of credit for both the performance and effects.  Even if it were stripped of many of the more dangerous-appearing effects the show would still work.  The story, score, and actors can carry the show even if Spider-Man ends up in the audience a few less times or the technically-amazing stage is utilized less.

When this show opens, be sure to see it.  Now, since I’ve been very positive, here are a few things that I’ve heard from various other audience members, or concerns of my own (that I must stress are minor):

-Be warned that the first act is very similar to the Spider-Man film, so you may get a sense of “I’ve heard this all before,” just remember that you’ve never seen it before this way.
-Kids will love the first Act, however younger ones may find the high-drama second act to be less attention grabbing, even with the introduction of many wonderfully-costumed villains.
-Even as someone who only enjoys U2 and not as a rabid fan, I found that this style of music was great for the musical, however many older (60+) audience members didn’t seem to agree.  Musical taste may have a big impact on your enjoyment of the show.

I wish the cast good luck, and want them to know they’ve hooked one fan that would like to see the show continue on even if changes must be made; I’d love to see where this show brings their talents from here.