Beautiful, Brainless ‘Spider-Man’ Is Still Inert: Jeremy Gerard

Spider Man
Reeve Carney in "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" in New York. Julie Taymor was the original creator of the play. Photographer: Jacob Cohl/O&M Co. via Bloomberg

There were two showstoppers during the 65th preview of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” on Saturday night, and they weren’t songs.

This was meant to be the weekend critics came, though the producers of this elaborately afflicted musical once again postponed opening night until March 15.

No dice. Critics from the New York Times, local tabloids, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, among others, dropped in anyway. And so did I, for the second time, to re-review a show I had found close to unsalvageable on Dec. 26.

Preview number 65 was no improvement over number 30. In fact, it was worse.

At around midpoint in Act I, Reeve Carney couldn’t take flight as he was supposed to. While the crew futzed with the wires, Spidey and his nemesis the Green Goblin (Patrick Page) sauntered over to a downstage piano and ad libbed what turned out to be the funniest lines of the night.

“Better be careful with that Champagne,” warned the Goblin as Spider-Man lifted a glass.

“Pretty soon you’ll be flying over the audience’s heads.” He paused. “I hear they’ve dropped a few of ‘em.” That drew a great laugh.

Dangling Conversation

Minutes later, during their big, 30-second battle scene, Spider-Man had to be helped onto one of his high perches and the Goblin was left dangling for several minutes over the pricey seats.

Director Julie Taymor had said she would be crafting a new second act that required time. Back in December, the show ended ambiguously, with a morose super-hero. That’s been replaced by a crowd-pleasing buss that Mary Jane plants on him as he bungees, upside-down, from the rafters.

The best thing about “Spider-Man” remains George Tsypin’s sets, a giddy-making color-saturated mash-up of bold comic-strip tableaux and ingenious, perspective-altering views of the Chrysler building, a teeny subway train, a threatening city schoolyard.

They frame Taymor and costume designer Eiko Ishioka’s outlandishly bedecked villains and life-size puppets. Donald Holder has unleashed every exclamatory trick of the lighting designer’s trade to make the show a heart-quickening visual trip, pumped up by Daniel Ezralow’s acrobatic choreography.


Bono and The Edge, mostly out touring with U2 when not at Davos, have dropped in from time to time without changing the songs, which remain loud, dull and unmemorable.

Neither Taymor nor her co-writer, Glen Berger, have found a way to improve the book, a protofeminist stew that foolishly decants the myth of the weaver Arachne into a story that’s incoherent to begin with.

After all this expenditure of talent and money, “Spider-Man” is probably unfixable because too much has gone into making humans fly, which is not what they are good at. It imitates poorly what the “Spider-Man” movies do brilliantly with computer graphics -- and without putting live actors in jeopardy.

They are fine actors. In addition to Carney and Page, I liked Jennifer Damiano, who has little to do as girlfriend Mary Jane Watson, but does it winningly, and Michael Mulheren as crass Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson.

Maybe the show eventually will run for several performances in a row without having to stop to untangle someone. Some triumph.

At the Foxwoods Theatre, 213 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-877-250-2929; Rating: **

What the Stars Mean:
****        Excellent
***         Very Good
**          Average
*           Not So Good
(No stars)  Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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