Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: 'Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark' Swings Into The Foxwoods Theatre

By the time ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark’ had its official opening night a couple of weeks ago, the musical set a record that is unlikely to be challenged. The troubled production played an unprecedented 182 previews over a seven-month period. By comparison, ‘War Horse’ had the second most previews of the shows opening this season at 33.

The plot follows teenager Peter Parker (Reeve Carney) whose world is turned upside down when a genetically altered spider bites him and by the next morning he is climbing the walls. High school is not kind to the science geek as he is bullied by his classmates but finds friendship and love with pretty Mary Jane Watson (Jennifer Damiano).

Parker’s Uncle Ben (Ken Marks), Aunt May (Isabel Keating) and employer J. Jonah Jameson (Michael Mulhern) of the Daily Planet newspaper make appearances along the way as Spidey battles multiple villains among which the Green Goblin (Patrick Page) is his main foe.

Much press has been devoted to the dismissal of original director Julie Taymor (replaced by Philip McKinley who directed Hugh Jackman in “The Boy From Oz”). By all appearances, Taymor was determined to not only match but exceed the creativity she brought to “The Lion King”. What is in evidence on stage this evening are Taymor’s touches of forced perspectives exemplified in an action sequence at the Chrysler building and masks of the Sinister Six which have been included to up the villain ante. These touches are revealed to mix results. There is no doubt she had a strong influence on the set designs by George Tsypin and costumes by Eiko Ishioka.

Many audience members will be curious about the flying sequences. These stunts have become an important aspect in production advertising to warrant the theatre’s mezzanine being re-named the flying circle and front balcony called the upper flying circle. The sequences are indeed spectacular and its occurrence limited in attempts to keep it novel and purposeful. It does become obvious that stunt actors perform all flying and Carney never leaps off the stage during the two hours and forty-five minute running time. The ropes that secure the actors can be clearly seen but to see them leap through the cavernous Foxwoods Theatre to each corner of the auditorium will keep young, and some older, patrons entertained.

The music by Bono and The Edge does have echoes of U2's music as it should be expected. But it’s a collection of songs that are too often moody and none drive the story. Carney, if a lightweight stage presence as Parker, has the rocker voice to perform the songs live. There is some pleasure in a few of the numbers (“If I Rise,” “D.I.Y. World” and “Bouncing Off The Walls”) but the remainder feels like CD filler. The overture does get some mileage and is a worthy theme to highlight the action sequences.

Credit has to be given to Damiano, Keating and Mulhern all of whom desperately try to elevate themselves above the stilted dialogue. There's something that has to be said when the most interesting role to watch is that of the villain who never seems menacing. Performing with great relish, Page appears to be having fun with the role in green make-up and even manages a couple of jokes regarding the bad press suffered by the musical. He exclaims to the audience at one point that ‘I’m a $65 million circus tragedy.”

A couple of segments featuring Arachne (T.V. Carpio), as sort of a guiding spirit for Spider-Man, are quite interesting especially in the opening that seems pulled from a Cirque du Soleil show. But that opening seems devoid of any relationship to anything else in the play. The Sinister Six all of whom have villainous powers exemplified by their names (Carnage, Electro, Kraven the Hunter, the Lizard, Swam and Swiss Miss) strut the stage in their fancy costumes and masks as if on display in fashion show.

Particularly distracting are the actors portraying high school students none of whom would even be able to walk convincingly down the halls of McKinley High School on the television series “Glee.” The comic book look of the production design should have been reigned in when someone saw that Parker would be walking around the stage in what looks like a cardboard camera drawn by a grammar school student.

It’s not unheard of Broadway shows, especially musicals, to make some nips and tucks after opening night. 'Les Miserables' shaved off an entire 15 minutes to save on overtime payroll years after opening. However with $75 million already invested in 'Spider-Man', it’s unlikely any changes will be made any time soon. The curiosity now remains if the musical will have the pull to attract audiences long-term and eventually turn a profit. By that time other actors will have resumed the roles of the original cast. But as long as the twenty-something Carney, the original Spider-Man, will be invited when that event occurs. Of course he’ll probably be 55 by then.


 More production photos below.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...