Since then, the budget-busting Broadway show has undergone a massive overhaul, with former director Julie Taymor departing the production, and an entirely new set of writers — including comics scribe Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa — brought on to rework the script.
With the show finally ending its record-breaking run of preview performances next week and marking its official Broadway debut, I found myself in the audience a second time to find out whether “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark” had finally spun a web that will keep audiences in the seats.
Given how much has been written about the show already, the best way to gauge whether the new, re-tooled “Spider-Man” musical is worth the ticket price might just be to explain how the cast and creative team have changed certain elements — good and bad — since its first, heavily criticized, glitch-filled run.
Before I get started, though, here’s a quick spoiler: Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is a lot friendlier this time around.
No More Geeks: Originally serving as pseudo-narrators for the story, the musical’s “geek chorus” weren’t looked upon kindly by critics or comics fans (they were essentially an amalgam of fanboy/fangirl cliches), and the story-within-a-story environment they created made a convoluted plot even more confusing. They’ve been entirely removed from the new script, however, and their absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder for “Turn Off The Dark.”
More Goblin, More Awesome! Amid all of the criticism heaped on the initial run of “Turn Off The Dark,” one universal area of praise was the performance of Patrick Page as Norman Osborn, a.k.a. Green Goblin. In the initial run of the show, his character was killed off in Act One, and many audiences’ enjoyment of the show died with him. In the show’s new form, Page is given more time in the spotlight, and the conflict between Spider-Man and Green Goblin occupies the bulk of the production (and the theater space over audiences’ heads). It’s a great example of one of the brightest lights of the original run getting a lot brighter in the new script, and with the exception of actress T.V. Carpio — who saw her role as Arachne reduced significantly in the new script — we’re all better off for it.
Add Existing Ingredients, Stir Vigorously, Enjoy: What could be most impressive about the new “Turn Off The Dark” is the way in which the creative team managed to shift around existing songs and set pieces to craft an entirely new story. Gone are many of the stranger, more convoluted elements of the story and song choices that plagued the original iteration of the show, including the weird integration of Greek mythology, a song about Arachne’s shoe-shopping woes, and a confusing explanation for the arrival of the Sinister Six. The musical’s new writing team clearly took cues from Spidey’s comics history when looking to connect many of the set pieces, songs, and characters from the original production, and while those connections don’t all abide by comics canon, they now make a lot more sense.
Take Heart, Comics Faithful: Where the original version of the musical took enough liberties with Spider-Man canon to make diehard fans sick to their stomachs, the new script offers quite a few more nods to the source material — and more than just the passing drop of a creator’s name. For example, Uncle Ben isn’t the victim of a hit-and-run this time time around, and instead suffers a fate more akin to his comics counterpart. There’s also a nice little nod to the classic “Spider-Man No More” story in the show’s second act that will perk up Spider-fans’ ears.
Sinister Six: Now More Sinister! Let’s face it: the original debut of the musical’s version of the Sinister Six (Kraven, Carnage, Electro, The Lizard, Swarm, and Swiss Miss) was less than impressive, serving more as a showcase for the costumer’s imagination than a necessary plot point. In the revamped musical, however, the six villains actually manage to seem more, well… sinister. Sure, they all look a little too much like sports team mascots, but this time around we actually get to Spidey battle them, and there’s even a logical reason for them to be in the show!
Bonesaw McGraw, The Inflatable Version: In the original version of the musical, Peter Parker’s brawl with wrestler Bonesaw McGraw takes the form of an actor jumping around a makeshift ring with a massive, inflatable man. Not much has changed with that scene in the new version of the musical, but they have made a slight tweak to Bonesaw — adding someone in the ring to animate the inflatable wrestler — that makes it a little less silly to watch.
Look, Up In The Air! While the amount of aerial maneuvers in “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark” has been ratcheted down in the new version of the musical, the best ones are still there — and better yet, there seems to be a lower chance of the show stopping in mid-air during one of these scenes. There wasn’t a single glitch in the performance I attended, which was a far cry from the multiple stop-and-start events that were a regular occurrence months ago. The actors’ wire work looks significantly more polished in the new performance, and that made the stunts feel that much more impressive.
So there you have it, folks — the story I never thought I’d write about “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” The thing is, given all of the well-deserved criticism the original run of of the show received, it seemed only right to offer up some thoughts about the production now that it’s received such a comprehensive re-tooling at the hands of its new creative team.
Perhaps the most surprising change, though, is that after seeing the new version of “Turn Off The Dark,” the production no longer feels like the punchline to a bad joke. It certainly has its share of flaws, but it’s taken big steps toward becoming the show we all hoped it would be when it was first announced — a high-flying, fun adventure with New York City’s favorite webslinger.