Disclaimer: I saw the “Spider-man: Turn off the Dark” on January 22, 2011 – which was a preview (technically I purchased my tickets when I was going to see the show after it opened, but they have since changed opening night twice). Also note that anything I write about can change before opening night, which is now March 15th, 2011. No press tickets were given; I purchased my own ticket.
First things first: get your tickets to see Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark as soon as possible. It’s worth every cent.
To be honest, I’m definitely going again in the future. Of course I want to see the changes, but the show is an incredible technical feat of epic proportions and it absolutely blew my mind. It’s a new type of musical, a new breed – where circus meets Broadway under the guise of a music concert. Julie Taymor has molded these elements together quite well. You can tell she’s still ironing out the details, but for a show with no out-of-town tryout, she’s doing a hellavu job and she should be 100% commended for it.
But let’s get something else out of the way – this isn’t a Broadway musical. This is an epic Vegas-styled event that just happens to be on 42nd Street and in a Broadway house. But, the fact that it landed on 42nd Street makes sense — after all, that stretch of the city is like a “mini-Vegas”. So don’t pretend your seeing Sondheim, Rodgers & Hammerstein or even Andrew Lloyd Webber — this is Julie Taymor and her creative team’s creation from the ground up. It’s never been done on Broadway and for that, you should buy a ticket.
The best seats in the house are the “Flying Circle” (mezzanine) — there you’ll get to see the most action and also see the forced comic-book perspective on the stage the best. If you are going to splurge, make sure you get those seats. In the orchestra you have to look up to see the flying which is probably pretty amazing from that vantage point, but also a little awkward. I was sitting in the third row of the balcony and Spider-man, at one point, landed on the edge of the balcony four feet from where I was seated. (That totally blew my mind.) The balcony (if you can get one of the first four rows) is a fantastic seat as well. You can see everything that is happening on stage. It was surprisingly a great seat! All of the tickets are a bit expensive, but honestly it’s totally worth it if your expectations are right. (It’s all about your perception walking in that door.)
Now, I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of the production — I’ll let Taymor, Bono, The Edge and the rest of the creative team do that, but I’ll give a few hints on what could be better.
Right now, the technical side of the show is brilliant but the rest of the show isn’t, so the book and music feels even weaker than it really is. The performances (by all of the leads) are equally being squashed by all of the technical demands of the show. Some shows, you walk away and you know that the material was lifted by a specific performer, like Alice Ripley in Next to Normal. In Spider-man you sometimes forget they are on stage. While, Spider-man has some great music and a pretty good plot, the show is all about the technical complexity of the flying sequences, set by George Tsypin and costumes created by Eiko Ishioka. It drowns out the rest of the material.
But again, think of the show as a Broadway-style Vegas event and then you won’t be disappointed.
I’m hoping that in the next two months, Julie Taymor, Glen Berger, Bono and The Edge can create a story that’s even clearer. I had trouble understanding a lot of the muffled lyrics, even though I could understand the general mood/plot line of the story. I also didn’t understand how Spider-man defeated the Green Goblin. I must have got caught up in the flying and totally missed that part of the plot. But, I loved how they weaved Arachne into the story and created their own plot instead of re-hashing the movie on stage. It was creative, inventive and overall it worked. With a few tweaks, it will be totally solid. (I’m still totally lost on the spider shoe number. What was that?)
The music, by U2’s Bono and The Edge, was really good! I loved all of songs that Arachne (T.V. Carpio) sang the most. The first song she sang was breathtaking against the beautiful flying yellow silk patchwork! Stunning. I’m really looking forward to hearing this music on a cast recording! Mary Jane (Jennifer Damiano) also soared on her solo in the middle of the second act. Spider-man (Reeve Carney) had some great songs as well. I loved “Bouncing Off the Wall” and “Boy Falls From the Sky”. The only time the music shined through was when there wasn’t anything technical happening on the stage – when there was a moment of stillness. That is when the music kicked ass. Otherwise, it blended into the background. Both, Bono and The Edge were at the performance I attended, taking notes, so I’m assuming that means that things will change.
For a musical that has gotten this much negative press, I have to say I was expecting a HUGE hot mess, but it wasn’t by any means. Yes, there’s work to do and yes, it wasn’t perfect, but Julie Taymor has pushed more boundaries with this show than anything I’ve seen on Broadway in the last decade and we should definitely congratulate her for it.
My favorite part of the night was the fact that Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark has created a new Broadway audience. Seated next to me on my left was two “Comic-con” enthusiasts and on my right – a twenty-somethings couple that was seeing their first Broadway show. I mentioned, at intermission, to the girl on my right that Bono and The Edge were seated over in the box seats and she had no idea who they were. I then started to describe U2, the songs they’ve sung and the fact that they wrote the music for Spider-man. Still, she had no idea who they were until I started singing, “With or Without You.” Then she said, “Oh yeah, I think I’ve heard that song. Well, I know everything about pop culture and the Jersey Shore.”Wow.
And there you have it: Broadway’s newest audience.