Friday, June 17, 2011

theatre review SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK, Broadway, June 16

Even the Playbill was changed-
"Turn Off the Dark" used to be in a
larger font than "Spider-Man"
We took the journey back to see Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark last night.  This was our third time seeing the show, the first being the night when Chris Tierney fell into the pit beneath the stage, which was a horrific evening.  The second time was when we received free tickets to see the show again since we didn't get to see the whole show the first time.  So, was the third time the charm?

By now everyone knows that the original Director Julie Taymor was let go from the production a few months back with a new director, choreographer and book writer brought in to make changes to the script and direction.  Have all of the changes improved and clarified what was a vastly muddled show before?  The answers are actually both yes and no.  The show is much clearer now, with actual character development and an understandable plot, two very important things that were vastly missing in the original version of the show.  But with the added dialogue, the show actually now plays slower and with the virtual elimination of the character Arachne there is actually less plot now then before, so even though the show is much clearer and cleaner now it actually somehow feels less of a show, a better show but a lesser one at the same time

Patrick Page and Reeve Carney
And, with the exception of one entirely new song, the score by Bono and The Edge is virtually the same.   And the new song, "Freak Like Me," isn't that good, it has a catchy beat that I'm still humming, but not much else.  Now there are three very good ballads in the show, and that's about the extent of the positive comments on the music.  Three slow ballads with a now more dialogue heavy show do not make for a moving production.  As the 4 year old boy in front of us said to his father about 45 minutes into act one, "I'm bored."  And while I wasn't as restless as this youngster and I did appreciate the changes that were made to the show, I still feel that what the show desperately needed was for Bono and The Edge to have written a few really great upbeat songs for this new version.  New, good songs plus the cleaner book is what this show desperately needed and for it only to get half of what it required, means the show ends up about where it was before.

The set design is some of the most elaborate ever
 seen on Broadway
Most of Taymor's imaginative stage images remain in the new production and there have been some new touches added by the new director, Philip Wm. McKinley as well.  This production has some of the most elaborate sets on Broadway.  Some are a homage to comic books, with pop-up pieces while others are huge video screens that display animated sequences while moving across the vast stage.  Much has been made about the high cost of this production, but a lot of that expense is clearly evident on the stage.

The use of video screens, mainly in the second act, adds
an added modern theatricality to the production.
With the reduction in Arachne's part, the role of the Green Goblin has been vastly increased.  Fortunately Patrick Page is one of the best things the show has going for it and his performance as both Norman Osborn and the outlandish Goblin puts a spark in the show and nicely balances the many slower dialogue scenes and ballads between Spidey's alter ego Peter Parker and his girlfriend MJ.  Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano are much stronger now than before since they now actually have characters to play and I really liked how many of the smaller parts have been beefed up as well.  Peter's Aunt Mae (Isabel Keating) has much more to do as does his Uncle Ben.  Osborn's wife is also used more and I really like how Mary Beth Wells portrays her.

Carney and Damiano
New choreography by Chase Brock has been added as well and fortunately it is all much better than some of the ridiculous dances that were in the previous version.  The sound mix which was very muddy in early previews has been cleaned p as well, with the vocals now more pronounced.  Many of the songs have new lyrics as well, and some songs that were previously more solo in nature have been fleshed out to include the ensemble members.  These are all welcome changes and mean that the ensemble cast is no longer just playing one dimensional characters.    So even though there is only one new song, there have been changes made to almost the entire score.

Carney takes flight
The flying is still thrilling and the movement of the aerial fight between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin that used to end act one to now being the finale of the show makes the ending much stronger.  With the exception of Arachne's flying solo number "Think Again" which has been cut, there is more flying than in the previous version which is a wise improvement.

But something strange about all of these changes is that even though they have all improved the show, what was once a risky, daring and artistic show before seems much more tame and safe now.  And the end result, with the exception of a few theatrical moments here and there, is of a show that is fairly bland throughout.  Sure it is technically better than what came before, but it is still bland.

The best sequence- the aerial battle looking down at NYC from
the top of the Chrysler building now wisely ends the show.
 There is a really great show still buried within what is being presented at the Foxwood's Theatre and it is too bad that after running for over six months the creators of this show still haven't figured out how to get that show out.  I appreciated being able to see this show three times over a six month period while they have made many changes to it and the show now is no longer the train wreck it once was.  I also wonder if after getting mixed to negative reviews at their official opening early this week if they will look into making even more changes to try to make this show into the crowd pleaser it desperately wants to be.

Official Show Site

MP3 clips from the cast recording-

Highlights from the new version -

An ABC Nightline story about the new version with plenty of show and backstage footage as well as interviews -

Tony Awards performance of "If the World Should End"

a portion of "Rise Above" - the best song in the show

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