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February 10, 2011

13

5 great things about ‘Spider-Man’ (yes, really)

by Jesse North

Daily Bugle News Flash! Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark is not the best musical ever written. However, the venomous reviews and general bad press seem to be overshadowing the aspects that director Julie Taymor and her creative team have gotten right. Here are five reasons why Spider-Man is worth the money.

spiderman spider man broadway musical poster peter parker julie taymor bono edge u21. Flying: This is the spectacle that the show rests on, and it is something to be seen. Aerial designers Scott Rogers and Jaque Paquin succeeded in making me feel like a little kid again, yearning for the ability to fly. I’m sure I wasn’t the only gaping-mouthed patron who was left insanely jealous of the actors that got to perform the aerial stunts. Despite very-visible cables (synthetic spider silk hasn’t been successfully manufactured in large quantities yet), Spidey and Green Goblin slingshot around the Foxwoods Theatre with shocking fluidity. They even reach every side of the two mezzanines, so that no audience block is left out of the action.

2. Sets: Scenic designer George Tsypin’s has created a cartoonish, sometimes whimsical world for Peter Parker and his enemies. But Tsypin’s real achievement with his designs is with the unique use of angles and perspective. We’re treated to two views of New York’s famous Chrysler Building: a standard tip-of, head-on shot and then a mind-bending aerial view, gazing down to the taxi-lined streets below. The Brooklyn Bridge juts out toward the audience with a dizzying height illusion. Climactic-moment scenes aside, Tsypin even turns a ho-hum stroll for Peter (Reeve Carney) and Mary Jane (Jennifer Damiano) to their Queens row homes into a direction-shifting stunner.

3. Arachne: A character that strays from the comic-book mythology of Spider-Man, Arachne is the goddess of spiders who bites Peter, giving him his powers. Played with ethereal relish by T.V. Carpio, Arachne’s songs have harmonic flourishes from the Middle East and Carpio’s vocals are among the strongest in the cast. Yet Arachne gets some of the most-visually stunning scenes. Her origin story is set to the backdrop of female “spiders” swinging from white drapes, weaving a tapestry. The look is the closest Taymor comes to her Lion King visuals, and it’s a welcome throwback. Arachne’s costume (designed by Eiko Ishioka) utilizes some seriously creepy spider legs. Furthermore, the sizeable costume makes it even more of a thrill when the spider goddess flies over the audience, in sequences that were a clear audience favorite at the performance I attended.

4. Lighting: Donald Holder’s lighting design washes the gorgeous sets in deep reds and blues. Furthermore, Holder’s collaboration with projection designer Kyle Cooper creates some of the more stunning uses of video seen on Broadway. Massive LED video panels traverse the expansive Foxwoods stage, flashing the menacing faces of Spider-Man’s villains at in-your-face perspectives. It’s an effect so immersive that it feels like it’s going to swallow the audience.

5. Ensemble: Make no mistake about it—this show is exhausting to perform. It has already proven injurious four times. The ensemble does the majority of the flying and fighting in the show. Keep in mind that there are about seven different Spider-Mans that swing, tumble, and backflip their way through the two-hour and 45-minute runtime. The choreography is jolting and abundant. Despite the complex choreography and cumbersome costumes (this is a show about spiders—there are lots of fake legs), the ensemble performed with high energy and precision. With past headlines as proof, these actors are putting their safety on the line every performance and delivering hard. They are the real superheroes of Spider-Man.

Have you seen Spider-Man, Rushers? Do you agree with my take on this high-flying, shape-shifting spectacle? What were your favorite aspects of the show? Do you think the production has received a fair shake? Leave your Spidey sense in the comments below!

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spiderman spider man broadway musical peter parker green goblin reeve carney patrick page julie taymor bono edge u2

Photo: Jacob Cohl

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Feb 10 2011

    I saw this show and agree- it wasn’t the best but there are definitely a lot of great parts to it. I would compare it to a B movie/popcorn musical type thing. It’s entertaining in the visual aspects, if not necessarily the plot or music.

    I think my favorite sequence is when Peter Parker wakes up in his bedroom with his spidey powers and jumps around the room. It was visually stunning and the lighting (red) was beautiful.

    And I really couldn’t be impressed more by the sets. All those moving parts! I don’t know how they can keep up.

    Reply
  2. Linda
    Feb 10 2011

    I think that having very low expectations probably helped your enjoyment. I saw it a month ago and I know some things have changed (like they have an ending now), but I would like to respond to each of your points, if you will indulge me. I like that you are able to look at the positive so I hope this doesn’t seem like I’m tearing you down. I just want to say why I don’t agree.
    1. I was actually disappointed with the flying. Yeah, when they were moving around really fast it was cool, but it was really only a few scenes when they had a lot of stunts in succession, and that’s it. I could have gotten that at Cirque Du Soleil. The one scene that I thought was awesome was the weaving scene that you mentioned.
    2. Totally agree here. Loved the sets!
    3. I thought Arachne was one of the many problems with the plot. Too many things going on, none of them developed. And that crazy shoe number…
    I’ll skip 4 because I didn’t pay attention to the lighting.
    5. Maybe it was the performance I was at, but almost nobody seemed like they wanted to be there. The energy was really lacking and I think this had to do more with the sound, but the ensemble numbers didn’t sound good at all. The only person who I felt was giving it his all was Gideon Glick.

    Reply
    • Feb 10 2011

      Thank you so much for these thoughts, Linda!

      1. It’s not Cirque du Soleil. Isn’t that an apples and oranges comparison? Maybe there should have been more flying, but that made it more special when it did happen.

      2. Yay, we agree!

      3. Yes, the shoe number was nuts. I can see how you feel that way, but when I saw it, she seemed to be the only character to have an arc.

      4. NA

      5. I guess this was just a difference in performances then. When I saw it, everyone seemed so lively. I’m sorry they weren’t as fierce the night you saw it.

      Reply
  3. IDon
    Feb 10 2011

    Can you see anything from the balcony? Row D? Such as the flying? If they land on the mezzazine, then I would assume you can’t see from up there?

    Reply
    • Feb 10 2011

      IDon, you can definitely see from the balcony, especially from row D! I was impressed with the job they did at making the flying visible to just about everyone. I think you’ll have a great perspective. Let us know how it goes!

      Reply
  4. Feb 10 2011

    But, this is a musical….what about the music? I guess the music is not in the top five great things.

    Reply
    • Feb 10 2011

      That’s kind of how I feel about it….if the only really positive things are the SPECTACLE, which seems to be what most people are saying, I feel cheated. I go the the theatre for music, stories, and characters I can like and care about. SPIDER-MAN seems to be nothing worthwhile but spectacle. I hear nothing about heart or passion in this show.

      Reply
    • Feb 10 2011

      Frankly Rich, it wasn’t.

      Reply
  5. Robyn
    Feb 10 2011

    Watching the show after having read all the negative reviews, I tried not to form an opinion just to validate some other jaded New Yorkers perspective.
    I saw many positive aspects of the production and thoroughly enjoyed it as a feast for the senses. The colors and variety of each set were dazzling, the aerial moves kept me guessing where to look next, and the female voices offered a calm balance to the heavy guitar pieces.
    Arachne’s voice was extremely captivating, as if her melodic voice cast a spell on the entire audience. I found her story to be the most consistent to follow and looked forward to each of her scenes.
    If the intent was to create a light, entertaining musical, “Spider-Man” fulfilled its goal for this New Yorker.

    Reply
  6. Alex
    Feb 10 2011

    1. The Flying stunts was absolutely magnificent. Sure the harnesses and the fly wire are visible but that becomes easily ignored at just how awesome these tools are utilized for the sequences. Frankly, I was absolutely bored during the first portion of Act I up until he finally started “using his powers” the bed room scene was cool with him jumping on the walls and what not but when he actually flew out through the theater was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve seen. I felt like a little 10 year old boy just amazed by it (in fact I was more excited than the little kids who were watching it haha). That’s the thing about this, if you’re going to make Spider-Man a live theater spectacle, one of the major things is to have lots of those stunts. Now, because of safety issues and the choreography may be complex I would understand why it can be so sparse. However, there’s a difference between having a show where the flying is spread out at certain points throughout the show and a show where there’s nothing for 80% of the act and then clump all the stunts towards the end of the act.

    2. I loved the sets a lot too. The scene with Peter and Mary Jane walking through their neighborhood was brilliant staging. My favorite set of all was definitely The Daily Bugle office. A couple of friends that went with me and I agreed that the set was giving off a Mad Men-esque style which was absolutely great. All the shots where Spider-Man is walking on the side of the building was very cool as well and some of the sets were used the space and depth really well. One set that bothered me a lot was of Oscorp Labs. The giant lab glassware that housed the hybrid animals and all of that was cool but I felt like they didn’t use the stage space too well for that scene which kind of cost the scene in particular. It seemed like the actors had to make great strides to go from one place to another and seemed a little lost on how to deal with the open space. But overall sets were good.

    3. Arachne. Where do I begin. In a nutshell, This was by far the worst part of the show. Granted, as you said before, she’s the only one with an actual story arc because Julie Taymor is a nutjob, plain and simple. Because of the Arachne storyline, the rest of the storyline/show/music falls apart. Yes, the music in the show was awful because it seems like it’s a catalog of songs that Bono and The Edge wrote for U2 and decided they were awful to release in their albums but just to mark their territory on Broadway…took the easy way out and just loaded them into the show. Anyways, there’s what, 50 years worth of Spider-Man mythology to work with and yes I am aware that there was some type of storyline like in the 90s or other where there were involvement of actual Greek mythology but the point is that there was no need to include Arachne in the show entirely. Which brings up the introduction of the Greek Chrous (the 4 kid narrators) which were also atrocious. They need to be written out entirely but for the sake of filling in gaps where they use for technical purposes, they have to keep that in. Same thing with some of the music, I feel like some of the unnecessary songs like the plan of stealing all the women’s shoes of NYC were just there for the sake of filling in running time for technical purposes or Taymor, Bono and The Edge decided to place a song there for the hell of it. One may say that essentially the Arachne storyline is essentially a love story between her and Peter Parker because he’s her equal and I find this not good. If she wanted to include a Love Triangle then include Gwen Stacy or Black Cat and Peter’s struggles with liking them and Mary Jane at the same time. Green Goblin (though not my favorite villain) was perfect for this show because of the extravagance he can bring with his psychotic personality and the need for theatrics with his schemes. Keep him as the central villain and yes I would have let the Sinister Six storyline in the second act IF it was all Green Goblin’s plan to destroy Spider-Man once and for all. Everything revolves around Arachne. For a show that’s heavily centered around her, she barely is in the entire show. Arachne’s storyline just destroys the entire show. You get rid of that plot, then you have much more space to fix it up and make it so much better.

    4. Lighting was pretty awesome. The lighting used during the pre-show/seating with how it illuminated the scrim/curtain was cool. and the lighting was perfect with the red and blue since it aimed for the comic book feel at the same time keeping in mind with Spider-Man’s color scheme. The gigantic LED Screen Monoliths were my absolute favorite feature of the show. I’m just disappointed that the monoliths were only used for the second Act. Same problem with the flying stunts, it all gets clumped into one area and that’s it. I feel like it just brings a huge unbalance to the show in regards to giving a huge sensory shock to the audience.

    5. The night I went the cast was very lively and energetic. The more memorable actors from the show for me was definitely Patrick Page (though I was slightly confused over his choice of character for Osborn) and Michael Mulheren as J. Jonah Jameson. Jen D. (Mary Jane) seemed like she was just reprising her role from Next to Normal except with Red Hair. Reeve Carney just sounded like a younger Bono which I suppose would be fine given the music. Regarding the Greek Chorus, if the way they act is intended to come out as acting like kids who are just talking, then that failed to come across for me because it just seemed like they didn’t know their lines and were just trying to remember theirs or someone else’s lines.

    I’m sorry for the huge dissertation on this show but I can’t help it since I’m a huge comic book nerd as well as a huge Theatre nerd. I really wanted this show to work because I was one of the few people who think that it can work but it’s so hard to defend this show knowing this is what was produced. Luckily for me, I was able to watch the show for free because I would have been much more critical if I ended up paying to see this show.

    Reply
    • Alex
      Feb 10 2011

      I also apologize ahead of time for not looking it over and correcting all the grammatical errors that are scattered throughout the comment haha

      Reply
  7. Feb 12 2011

    This is what I have been saying for a month now…. I 100% agree with you. I was beginning to feel all alone!

    Instead of rehashing my point of view, here it is:
    http://broadwaycritic.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/theatre-review-spider-man-turn-off-the-dark-foxwoods-theatre-012211/

    Also, I stood up for Spider-man on London’s main talk-show when they interviewed me about the show this week:
    http://broadwaycritic.wordpress.com/2011/02/09/interviewed-on-londons-biggest-conversation-97-3-fm-about-spider-man-turn-off-the-dark/

    Reply
  8. Clare
    Feb 13 2011

    After reading all the headlines about the production, I thought it was going to be a waste of time. It’s good to read about the positive aspects of the show. I’m still not sold, I still wouldn’t spend a large amount of money on tickets, but I’m intrigued by some of your observations. The creation of a new character (Arachne) certainly seems intriguing!

    Reply

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