SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK
June 27, 2011
Trashing the Broadway Musical, Spider Man Turn Off The Dark, has become one of this year’s favorite blood sports among journalists. A magnificent attempt at merging high art and commercial entertainment married acclaimed director Julie Taymor and rock titans Bono and The Edge in the creation of a purported $75 million ever-changing musical theater spectacle.
But before the “official” opening, the spectacle played out in print and the blogosphere. Impatient journalists broke through the embargo line to release ill-tempered reviews of a show in process. Snarky slams aside, audiences drawn by the show’s controversy and reputation for crashing aerialists, plowed into the Foxwoods Theater. Now that the aerial glitches are – at least temporarily resolved—all are zeroing in on the production.
With the replacement of Julie Taymor by Phillip William McKinley and insertion of playwright Glenn Berger, the new folks have re-tooled the show reportedly simplifying the storyline and adjusting the action through-line.
And what’s the result? A thrilling, ceiling scanning battle scene between the Green Goblin and Spider-Man at the end of Act II, a few good songs-- among them Rise Above, and If The World Should End, not to mention the theme music that breaks in for those few memorable chords only to vanish never to fulfill it’s orchestral promise. In terms of talent, the invigorating, scene-noshing performance by Patrick Page as the genius scientist Norman Osborn/Green Goblin scores big next to an adorable romance between Reeve Carney (nerd Peter Parker/Spider-Man) and the lovely Jennifer Damiano (MaryJane Watson).
The curtain rises on Arcahne (T. V. Carpio)—suspended from the ceiling spinning the tale of the mortal who boasted her gifts as a weaver were greater than Goddess Athena’s—and well, it’s not nice to upset a Greek Goddess who takes her revenge by transforming a braggart into a spider. Back on earth events unfold around a nerdy young man, his lovely, red-haired girlfriend and the genius scientist gone villainously green.
Ms. Taymor’s Indonesian and Bread-and-Puppet Theater inflected visuals add theatrical imagination to an otherwise traditional format. NYC’s skyline fans out in an arc like a black and white Marc Chagall landscape shot through with airborne figures and uprooted buildings. Instead of real life bad guys terrorizing the throngs, over-sized, 2-D heads painted in broad black and white, menacing bad-guy caricatures sprint along.
The costumes and masks reference earlier Taymor works including Lion King, Grendel (the opera) and Juan Darien.
Bullied by school rough necks, Peter Parker—the shy, prize winning science wonk--falls for school sweetheart Cynthia. Things get dicey when Parker’s class visits a futuristic lab run by the uber-scientist Norman Osborn. One of his prized lab spiders escapes, accidentally biting Peter and transforming him into the super Spider-Man. Slipping off the edge of reality, Osborn goes nuts trying to retrieve the spider, ultimately losing his lab’s funding and beloved wife only to lock himself in a coffin like blender, and emerging as the green goblin dragon.
Just a cabaret artist at heart, Goblin channels Queen Liberace and tacky supper club entertainers in his glorious Second Act musical asides to the audience. In his day Parker lands an internship as photographer for The Daily Bugle. The blustery tabloid publisher, J. Jonah Jameson (Michal Mulheren (another grand character actor) spits out his share of expletives and eschews truth for sensationalism in his unchecked mania to capture the bold face Spider Man in photographs.
Not knowing how much of choreographer Daniel Ezralow’s choreography was affected by the switch in creative personnel, suffice it to say that his athletic style suits the format without really bringing anything new to the mix. In addition, Chase Brock, who has a strong visual sensibility, offers “additional choreography.”
In terms of pacing, Act I moves along at a moderate, flat pace spiked now and again by Spider-Man soaring to the balcony’s ledge, while Act II jumpstarts all the fantastical aerial events and percolating character eruptions.
My teenage nephew was impressed, tweeting pals at intermission and during bows, so it does have its appeal. Oh, and hats off to all the production’s fearless aerialists.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY--Celia Ipiotis