Thursday, February 3, 2011

Turning some light on Spiderman: a review

When I first heard they were making a Broadway musical of Spiderman, I was perplexed. I mean, don't get me wrong, there are plenty of family shows on Broadway that are very successful; however, this particular one didn't seem to lend itself to the stage. I'd mostly ignored a lot of the buzz about this rock musical featuring original songs by Bono and The Edge: that it was the most expensive show in Broadway history, that it has a seemingly endless preview period, and that the only reason it has been consistently sold out is because people are curious to see stunt people plummet. Despite my morbid curiosity after hearing about all the accidents and actors quitting, I hadn't really planned to see this one. But when a friend mentioned she could get a deal on tickets, it was hard to say no to a chance at making fun of the show close up.

True fans of the show can get this emblazoned on a t-shirt. For the perfectly reasonable price of $45.

Before the show began, they made an announcement that they were required by the Department of Labor to read a statement promising that they all the stunts had been approved for safety regulations. Ushers also gave special instructions to those of us in the balcony to not, at any point, try to "hitch a ride with Spiderman." This is the first Broadway show I have attended that came with government and safety disclaimers, beyond a basic explanation of the location of fire exits.

The first act started off a little slowly. They tried to cover social issues ranging from bullying and domestic violence to the problems of over-zealous genetic engineering. They needn't have really bothered, as most of the audience members, I assume, were just patiently waiting for the aerial stunts to begin and trying their best to ignore the spotty storyline. The writing was clearly not the focus of Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, but that is to be expected from a show whose 4-word subtitle already raises troubling questions.

The first act pretty faithfully followed the exact plot of the first Spiderman movie (with the notable absence of the character of Peter's best friend Harry Osborne--an omission that, for personal reasons, I consider a marked improvement). It was a bit more post-modern than I would have thought. And actually one scene involving the U.S. military reminded me a lot of the Metropolitan Opera's production of the Damnation of Faust two years ago. The set pieces and stunts were admittedly amazing. This is definitely one of the few Broadway shows where sitting in the balcony might give you a better view than the orchestra. On both balconies there were landing pads that Spidey would use as jumping off points, so the character would spend a few minutes crouched a few feet away while preparing to jump back into action.

You may wonder, if the first act followed the first movie in its entirety--from speedy exposition to even speedier denouement--what could the second act possibly contain? We wondered a little ourselves during the intermission. As it turns out, the second act is best described as a train-wreck. The set is still phenomenal, although the flying effects are fewer, but the story can no longer be ignored. Seven new villains are introduced, and most of them only appear on tv screens. I mean, fancy, super expensive looking screens that move and are the height of the stage...but still. Not to mention, the creation of the main villain required a bastardization of classic Greek mythology. There was also a really weird song involving shoes. There are not words to describe it. I keep trying and coming up with nothing.

All in all, can I really recommend the experience of Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark? I will say I enjoyed some of the music. Although I still haven't gotten one of the songs out of my head, which is unfortunate because I only know two of the words. Although to be fair, those two words are most of the song. Actually, all in all, I enjoyed the whole experience. Even the cringe-worthy parts. Especially the cringe-worthy parts. The stunt people were cool (although not cirque de soleil cool), and overall I was happy that no Spidermen were hurt in the course of the production we saw.


  1. Thanks for the review. I understand that those tickets are hard to come by. I assume the show is still in previews. Do you suppose it will ever officially open? Maybe someone will read your review and decide to rework the entire second act. Whether it's a hit or fails to get out of previews, I doubt I'll ever see it.

  2. I think it's in previews until March. Then it's ready to open and take Broadway by storm! And sadly I think my blog doesn't have nearly enough clout to change what looked to be a very expensive second half.

  3. I enjoyed reading this. I feel I've touched into the NY experience however briefly.

  4. I have been wanting to hear someone's opinion on this one ... sounds like the effects were amazing but the story was a little lacking!

  5. That sounds like an interesting play to see. I'm with you--I would have gone just out of morbid curiosity. :)