We’re as surprised as anyone that the folks behind
“Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” have been able to transform their epically troubled musical into a satisfying piece of Broadway entertainment. In January, as news of the show’s creative and safety issues turned the then $65 million production into one of the Great White Way’s most spectacular disasters, we admitted that while there were some enjoyable aspects, you were better off popping in a DVD of a Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man” flick than trekking to New York to see the musical.
What a difference a few months — and a new creative team — makes. Out went Julie Taymor, in came writers like comics vet Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and the results are just what the web-slinging wonderboy needed. We’re not the only ones who feel that way. As “Turn Off the Dark” officially left its preview phase behind and opened on Tuesday, reviews have been pouring in, and many have been positive. Not all, mind you — not even close.
Unsurprisingly, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” remains as divisive as ever. Here’s what the critics have to say.
The Overall Changes
“[It] has deteriorated from mindblowingly misbegotten carnival-of-the-damned to merely embarrassing dud. Awash in a garbage-gyre of expository dialogue pumped in by script doctor/comic-book vet Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, its lavish stage pictures turned to colloidal mush by director Philip William McKinley and choreographer Chase Brock, Spidey 2.0 is indeed leaner and more linear, and its story has been brutally clarified: It’s now all too clear how very, very little was there in the first place. Spider-Man violates the first rule of pop fantasy: Never lose the distinction between beautiful simplicity and rank simplemindedness.” — Scott Brown, New York
The New Music
“Composer/lyricists Bono and the Edge have added one campy number, Goblin’s ‘A Freak Like Me,’ but the most memorable songs offer the same emotional and melodic sweep that distinguishes their work in U2. It’s right after one such tune, the soaring ballad ‘Rise Above,’ that Spider-Man first appears. As distinctly Edge-like guitars chime, dancers costumed as the superhero leap about like giddy children discovering a new trick. At such moments, Spider-Man doesn’t need technology or gadgetry to take flight.” — Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“In the title role Reeve Carney is an appropriately nonthreatening crush object for tweens, an appealingly agitated Everydweeb with great cheekbones and a sanitized, lite version of a concert rocker’s voice.
He is well paired with the wryly sincere Jennifer Damiano (‘Next to
Normal’) as Mary Jane Watson, Peter’s girlfriend. Ms. Carpio’s Arachne (now a beneficent fairy godmother rather than an erotically troubling dream spider) provides the most arresting vocal moments with her ululating nasality. Michael Mulheren is suitably blustery and fatuous as the pandering newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson. And Patrick Page, as the megalomaniacal scientist who becomes the evil mutant called the Green Goblin, provides the one reason for adults unaccompanied by minors to see the show.” —Ben Brantley, The New York Times
“[T]here are plenty of breathtaking moments, beginning with the opening scene in which Peter gives a class presentation on the myth of the spider goddess Arachne, played by T.V. Carpio in a role that was reduced by at least half in the new production. As Peter narrates the story of Arachne’s legendary weaving skills, six actresses hang across the stage on massive gold ribbon swings, swaying up and downstage as horizontal ribbons fall, creating a striking human loom. During the climactic fight scene atop the Chrysler Building, the set is built from a roof’s-eye perspective, with a hypnotic view straight down the skyscraper’s side to the cab-lined street far below.” — Evie Nagy, Rolling Stone
The Final Word
” ‘Spider-Man’ threatened to go down in history as one of Broadway’s biggest flops. While it probably won’t become one of the street’s greatest smashes, it’s now a fun family show that will entertain fans of both superheroes and showstoppers. Was it worth the wait? For this combination fanboy and show queen, definitely.” — David Sheward, Back Stage