Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark Broadway review
Oh Spider-Man, you’re so friendly and neighborhood…ee. Our relationship has never been great, but this… This makes The Amazing Spider-Man look like Citizen Cane. The “this” in question is Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which closes on January 4th here in New York City.
I think that this musical came to be after 2002’s Spider-Man made $821 million dollars at the box office simple because the plot hits all of those same beats (right down to merging the character of Gwen Stacey into Mary Jane Watson) of that film as well as it’s sequels. Like The Amazing Spider-Man, the show is under the impression that I want to see a Spider-Man origin story where Uncle Ben doesn’t say “With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s bonkers! That’d be like Superman without the cape – ridiculous!
So while on the one hand, the show is simply translating existing movies to the stage and adapting them to musical form, it’s also trying to be it’s own show… in the weirdest way possible.
Here, a grown man who is not a professional wrestler that refers to himself as The Edge explains that Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is not a rehashing of the movies, except it totally is… so, that’s what we’re dealing with!
Please note: I saw version 2 of the show. That’s right – the first version was so bad they had to revamp it.
The show starts with Peter Parker (spoiler alert: he’s Spider-Man!) giving a report on Arachne, the Goddess of the Weavers, because… some bull shiz, I forget why, it’s a scene at school. It’s really just an excuse to do some weird visual, Cirque du Soleil meets Shen Yun Performingarts. Anyway, it looks cool but it doesn’t help the story at all. This comes up a few times… it clearly seems to be a holdover from version 1 of the story that they weren’t willing to drop completely because it had already cost the production too much money.
Like 2002’s Spider-Man, the plot centers around Harry Osborne becoming the Green Goblin, so he’s in it a lot. He creates the fabled Spider-Man villains The Sinister Six, all of whom have no character and Spider-Man whips the theater with in about five minutes. Also, there’s the love story between Peter and Mary Jane, which takes a lot of queues from Spider-Man 2 and 3 and is really the only thing holding the show together. Like any Spider-Man story, J. Jonah Jameson and his Daily Bugle are there to throw hate at Spider-Man, which, at this point, is a Spider-Man story element I’m sick to death of, but can’t blame the show for. Blah, blah, blah. If you’ve seen the Spider-Man movies, you know the plot to this show, but it’s not done nearly as well here. I still have no idea why the Green Goblin fell off the building…
Like the story, the costumes can’t make up their minds. J. Jonah Jameson and his secretaries sorta look like they’re from the 50s or 60s while everyone else seems to be wearing contemporary clothing, using cell phones, etc. The Green Goblin’s costume is imaginative and sorta bad ass. Everyone in the Sinister Six looks terrible – they look more like the Sinister Shit! There are some video versions of them that project on the rear wall that look much better than the awful toy store costumes that everyone else wears. Seriously, The Sinister Six looks worse than Disney on Ice and they stick out like a soar thumb, especially when they’re standing next to the Green Goblin. There’s also something wrong with Spider-Man’s mask, but I can’t put my finger on it. There’s a lot of clumpy fabric, but maybe that has something to do with the microphone? No idea. Anyway, everyone looks like they’re wearing a totally different style – like if a comic book was 10 pages long and a different page was drawn by a different person and no one ever talked to each other about their vision of the look. The costumes are a good metaphor for the show.
The Flying Effects
It’s easy to praise this show’s flying effects. Sure, there’s lots of cumbersome wires, giant harnesses and gadgets, but it’s pretty neat when Spider-Man swings out over the audience and tells the bad guys to get screwed. Spider-Man lands on the balcony and in the aisles (which necessitates safety spotters who’s red lights took me right out of the show), which is neat and well done and apparently took a tone of money and people to pull off. I’ve never seen anything like it live, so it’s a spectacle to behold for sure.
There were lots of cool ideas when it came to the sets. There’s a great classroom set that makes excellent use of forced perspective and set the sets of Mary Jane and Peter’s houses fold like the pages of a comic book – it looks awesome, works great with the show and is a great nod to comics and is probably the most well executed moment of the show. There’s some cool New York City scenes, but sometimes, the buildings run vertically on the sides of the stage while the middle of the stage will show a bird’s eye view, which was confusing. Sometimes they’d pick one perspective, but the mixed them often, which was weak sauce for a Broadway show. There’s a also a great balcony that flies in that Mary Jane and Peter sit on, looking at the moon as well as a lovely bridge set. There’s something tiresome about Norman Osborn’s lab… maybe it just looked too much like Green Screen or something. There’s also this inflatable piano looking set piece that shows up at the end of the show… it’s bizarre. It looks like somebody bought it at Party City. Oh and then there’s Peter’s weird bedroom as seen during his song, “Bouncing Off The Walls…” That looked like crap. Anyway, the sets are hit and miss.
I’m going to have to insist that the songs are the most important part of a musical and shockingly, all of the sucks pretty much suck. They all sound unfinished or stuff that U2 decided wasn’t good enough to go on Pop.
“Rise Above” has potential. It’s a decent hook, but the verses are weak. I keep waiting for something to happen, but it never does. “New York City” and “The Boy Falls From the Sky” are OK, but “NYC” feels kinda underdeveloped (especially for the ensemble) and basically any time anything halfway good is happening musically (“On This Sunny Day”) there’ll be something there visually to ruin it, like the weird pack of a Spider-Mans that are doing kata behind Peter Parker while he’s singing. The Spider-Man instrumental theme is kinda reminiscent of the 1990s animated show, which pleased me, but it comes up about a million times and is also very reminiscent of every U2 song from The Joshua Tree and anything they released before that. And there are two more problems:
1. The ensemble arrangements are HORRIBLE! I can’t hear them and when I can, they’re just singing in unison. Come on, folks – this is Broadway! Ring a chord for me!
2. The inclusion of existing U2 songs. They’re in the background, but… sheesh. I guess it’s supposed to be a joke, but it’s a lame joke at best and narcissism and laziness at it’s worst.
Finally, I must mention “Bully By Numbers,” which is maybe the second song in the show, and it’s easily the worst song not just in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark but in any musical I’m aware of. It’s shockingly loathsome, as I’m fond of repeating. It sounds like the sort of song a high school student would write if you told him, “I need you to write a song about a nerd being bullied by jocks at school. It needs to be five minutes… I’ll give you ten to complete this assignment… else you’re dead! Your family is dead! I’ll burn your house to the ground!”
The show kinda sucks, but it’s like the most beautiful train wreck ever. Would you go pay to watch two trains collide if it resulted in fireworks and people flying around? I guess I would, because that’s what happened. Beyond all the issues I just mentioned, the show has another big problem: it has no idea what audience it’s trying to please. It’s not music fans because the music sucks. It’s too scary for kids and to incomprehensible for anyone near the age of junior high. It’s clearly not for fans of theater because it’s all about bells and whistles and not about performance and craft.
On the other hand, it’s wacky, and I like wacky. If it was, say $25, I’d see it again, just for the spectacle. But ultimately, this show is a lemon. Supposedly, a scaled down version is headed for Vegas, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is closing its NYC run on Saturday, January 4th, 2014. You’ve been warned/may start your celebration.