Growing up I was a huge Spider-man fan. I not only had a subscription to the original “The Amazing Spider-Man” comic book, but also the less popular Spider-Man titles “Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man,” “Web of Spider-Man,” and even the bizarre parody comic “Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham,” which followed the adventures of an anthropomorphic pig who had been bit by a radioactive spider.
I didn’t stop with the comics though – I also watched the cartoon for hours on end, sent away for a web cartridge that promised to shoot webs just like Spider-Man’s (it didn’t), and even had Spider-Man come to one of my birthday parties. When we asked him if he could climb a wall or spin a web for us, Spider-Man told us he couldn’t because it was his “day off.” The nine-year-old Mike was crushed… and very suspicious.
With all of that said you can imagine just what I wanted to do upon setting foot in New York – check out the new Broadway musical, “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark!”
The new Spider-Man musical, it is safe to say, is the most talked about Broadway musical in decades (if not ever), and for good reason:
- Years in the making, the production cost sixty-five million to produce and will need to sell out every show for years in order to just break even.
- Directed by two-time Tony winner Julie Taymor (previously the director of Broadway’s “The Lion King”), it features music and lyrics written by Bono and The Edge of U2.
- It is one of the most elaborate shows of all-time, and features performers flying high over the audience. This part of the show has taken some time to perfect, and one performer even fell from his harness and seriously injured himself during a preview show.
- Critics have given the show pretty brutal reviews, and “Saturday Night Live” even did a sketch poking fun at it.
Before the show started. Also before an usher told me no pictures were allowed.
One of the main problems critics have had with the play is its story which has been called incomprehensible. I can see how someone unfamiliar with the story of Spider-Man could have this reaction, especially during the first half of the show which jumps from scene to scene of Spider-Man’s origin story with lightning speed – sort of like a Cliff Notes version of Spider-Man. If, however, you know the story (or even just saw the first Spider-Man movie) you will be able to follow what is going on just fine.
As for the music (this is a musical, after all), the songs are rock and roll driven and sound like they were written by members of U2, but none really stick in your head upon first listen. This isn’t to say the music is bad, it’s just not as immediate or memorable as you’d like for a musical. Despite this the performers all sing the material with great skill and enthusiasm.
The main reason for seeing this play, however, is for the sheer spectacle. The sets and costumes are first-rate, and the action sequences that see the actors flying over the heads of the audience are truly breathtaking. In fact, when Spider-Man first flew away from the stage (about forty minutes into the performance), the audience broke into applause. These sequences are arguably worth the price of admission alone, but it should be noted though that only ten minutes or less of the two hour plus performance is made up of these aerial sequences.
All in all I enjoyed “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” for the most part but it was definitely…weird. The mixing of a super hero story with the song and dance of Broadway is a very strange combination if you think about it, and there are moments (such as when a group of Spider-Men break into a choreographed dance routine) that are truly bizarre. Fortunately, there are many fun moments when these two disparate elements compliment each other, and the aerial sequences really are unlike anything you will have ever seen before.
VERDICT: Definitely worth seeing if you are a Spider-Man fan, all others should proceed with caution.
Awesome review Mike! Just the way I like my theater criticism. Crisp and to the point. Lucky duck you got to see it!
Bil Simser says:
Nice. I’ve heard a lot about it (mainly due to the controversy over safety) but won’t be making my way to anywhere it might be playing soon. Maybe they’ll be a video of it but it won’t be the same.
As for a recommendation, if you get a chance to see Spamalot do it! It’s Monty Python if you sort of like that stuff and just drop dead funny. Jenn and I were laughing the entire time through, reliving moments from the Holy Grail live and finding new ones. Another one where we thought “How can this be a musical?” but they pulled it off flawlessly.
I’ve heard a bunch of different reviews, but glad you enjoyed it. And thankfully no one fell while you were there, that has to be scary!
Great review, thanks!
Glad you liked it, as for me I’ll skip it. I’m seeing Avenue Q next week down in NYC
kris (lower case) says:
my husband and our son want to go to new york to see it (son is 11) and i think they would love it. i think it is just something you have to be ‘open to’ to enjoy it and they are for sure!
As someone who works in theater, I’ve had my eye on this show for a very long time – I’m going to see it in April (wonder if it will finally be out of previews by then!). It’s actually very nice to read a good review! Glad you enjoyed it.
I have to say (and I told Heather this), I find this review very refreshing. All of the print and work around the musical has been so negative and all about the budget, etc. Yes, those are realities but it’s nice to hear from a non-theater critic about the show. I like that the review is really balanced and that you summed it up in the end. I hate to say, I’m not surprised the story is a bit uneven and am a little disappointed the music was so uneven but I think the aerial sequences will be the real star and I’m glad those lived up to the hype. Where I think the musical is doing well is the graphics and promotion. The rogue photo you took really catches my eye as have the photos of the theater exterior. Hopefully, other Spiderman and theater fans will enjoy it as well. I hear the musical is going to be on Letterman this week too. I’ll definitely be checking it out.