As part of the Amazing Spider-Man New York press trip, I got the chance to see the Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark musical on Broadway. If you were to ask me for a one-word review of the Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark musical on Broadway, the one word I would give you is ‘bonkers’. On the better side of bonkers, mind, but still – ahem – completely off the wall.
Chances are, you’ll have already heard about its initial technical glitches, huge running costs and critical mauling. Maybe you’ll know it as “that U2 Spider-Man musical where those stuntmen were injured” or possibly as “the Broadway show with the weirdest name of all time”, but now that the dust has settled, the script has been rewritten, certain songs excised and nuts-on-the-wire rigging firmly tightened, this felt like the right time to appreciate Marvel’s foray into musical theatre.
The first surprise was the mood in the room. Though canon-but-not-quite-canon cinematic spin-offs have always appealed, from Madame Tussauds’ Marvel Super Heroes 4D* to Universal Studios’ T2 3-D: Battle Across Time, Shrek 4-D and Transformers: The Ride-3D, I never expected the champing-at-the-bit atmosphere the night I saw it. By the end of its 180 minutes, kids and adults alike were standing in ovation, hollering and clapping and screaming Spidey’s name like they’d just been rescued from the clutches of a real-life megalomaniacal mutant scientist with giant green combs poking out of his body.
This is mainly thanks to the hard work done by Peter Parker / Spider-Man (Reeve Carney) and Mary-Jane Watson (Rebecca Faulkenberry) in getting the audience to embrace the kid-getting-turned-into-a-super-Spider-Man thing, the singing-your-innermost-thoughts-almost-all-the-time thing and the teenage-love-affair-between-two-20-something-actors thing. Unfortunately, their chemistry isn’t quite up there on Garfield and Stone levels, but you really feel for the pair of them – notably during the obligatory upside-down kiss – despite the infrequent cartoonish goings-on around them.
The epitome of this occasional garish, old-school, ‘90s children’s TV vibe is Norman Osborn / The Green Goblin (Robert Cuccioli), whose first half as Dr. Osborn is both heartfelt and humourous, but whose second half as the pumpkin-lobbing maniac is frantic and more than a little bit weird. As you might expect, jaw-droppingly bad puns abound and his outfit – see below – borders on the incomprehensible.
But nothing is quite bizarre as his fellow mutants, The Sinister Six. Boasting Electro, Carnage, Swarm, Kraven the Hunter, The Lizard, and original character Swiss Miss (who looks like a massive pocket knife come to life, all twirling blenders and jaggedy bits of metal), they are a sugar rush-fuelled nightmare. When they arrive after the interval, all subtlety and nuance falls out the window, hitting the floor to the sound of, well, this:
In my mind, they resemble a combination of Kiss, Lordi and The Power Rangers, but the audience absolutely loved it. Video screens shot up out of nowhere to show the Sinister Six’s unique abilities as they wiggled and pranced about, all of which made me frightened for my sanity – but for the rest of the crowd, it was electric, whoop-inducing, musical catnip, but I guess that says more about my more cinematic taste in Spider-Mannery that it does about the actual musical.
The other tonal snafu was the introduction of a character called Arachne. Based on the Greek myth of the same name – mortal woman challenges Athena to a weaving competition, fails hard – it sees a heavily made up actress suspended (often upside-down) in the middle of the stage, appearing to Spidey in dreams and offering him perplexing advice. I honestly have no idea why she’s in the show, especially as her dark and sombre entrance is sprung on you early on, just before some far lighter high-school scenes. My best guess would be that as she’s the one who sings “Turn off the dark...” – no, even in context it still doesn’t quite make any sense – they couldn’t get rid of her, but even just thinking that makes me feel like a cynical husk of a human, so perhaps there’s something I’m just not picking up on with the Spider grand dame.
Then there’s the music. Though it’s not the next Les Mis, I enjoyed it, perhaps bolstered by a love of U2’s particular brand of guitar twanging after hundreds upon hundreds of childhood car journeys with my dad. Cuccioli, Faulkenberry and Carney boom out their lyrics with gusto, though perhaps the latter does suffer from not actually being Bono. Sorry about that.
The balance of a Sam Raimi-like lightness of tone in the high school and MJ scenes – when it sticks to it – is refreshing to see again in a new format, and the stage work is utterly astonishing. Each scene rolls on and off and back again and up again and into the floor and from the sky like a pop-up comic book, allowing for Carney and his suited-up stunt doubles to sprint about Peter’s bedroom as it hangs in the middle of the air as well as dash up the Chrysler Building as it’s assembled horizontally, jutting out over the crowd. The wirework, too, will draw gasps from even the most hardened Cirque du Soleil aficionados, with the Green Goblin’s flyer and Spidey’s web-slinging allowing for several moments where the overdressed opponents practically give you a haircut as they jet about the stalls.
But as I previously mentioned, the general feeling is of bonkers-ness. At times absurd, occasionally very sweet and fitfully funny, it’s not going to win many awards – aside from technical stagecraft ones, where they deserve pretty much all of them – it’s a bit of a hot mess, but one die-hard Spidey fans and families containing six year-old boys will find hard not to enjoy.
*I’m yet to see London’s Buckingham Palace-set version, complete with Wolverine, a red bus and a spectacular Fastball Special, but the New York edition boasts Loki and an intriguing reference to The Avengers, which I can’t help but love.
P.S. As I mentioned in my other Spider-Blog, The Amazing Spider-Man is out on Blu-ray(TM) 3D, Blu-ray and DVD 26th November. To make your own way to New York to get your own fix of Spidery goodness, head to American Airlines at aa.com.
BlackHoleP Posted on Friday November 30, 2012, 16:32
I saw this in NYC back in October - overall I did enjoy it, although agree it was pretty bonkers! I thought the sets & wire-work in particular were excellent.