“Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” opened last night, a $70 million anticlimax to a Broadway season that ended with Sunday night’s Tony Awards.
After seven months in previews, streamlining and sharpening an incoherent plot, dumping the director and co-author, sending one major character off to fat camp and throwing in a few new songs, what is on offer?
A loud, garish musical-with-flying about young Peter Parker, a comic-book superhero whose most endearing quality is his modesty.
George Tsypin’s phantasmagorical, perspective-skewing sets (the tricks he plays with the Chrysler building are nearly worth the price of admission), Eiko Ishioka’s wondrous costumes and Donald Holder’s dazzling lighting make “Spider-Man” a feast for the eyes.
And there is the flying, which doesn’t begin until an hour into the show. All told, it consumes about three minutes of the running time. Those minutes are thrilling, as Spider-Man and his nemesis, the Green Goblin, swoop and jab above our heads.
And yet a new director, Philip William McKinley, has done little to improve the muddled mythmaking of Julie Taymor, who was fired earlier this spring.
Gone is the “Geek Chorus,” the goofy teen quartet representing Taymor and her collaborators, Bono and the Edge of U2, and playwright Glen Berger.
Gone are the fun parts written into the role of Arachne, whose talent with a loom incited the jealousy of the goddess Athena, leading to her fate as the first spider, eternally weaving.
Gone, too, is the deliciously off-the-wall scene in which Arachne and her twisted sisters, the Furies, go on a shoe-shopping spree. As Arachne’s role shrank, so the juicier part of Norman Osborne, the mad scientist who becomes the Green Goblin, has been expanded to provide more comic relief.
Upon his transformation to evil genius, Norman gleefully exclaims, “I’m the $65 million man! Well, more like $70 or $75 million, now,” as audience members, appreciative of being in on the joke, titter.
Berger and a new writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, keep the focus on Peter -- mild teen turned sticky-limbed crime buster when he’s bitten by a genetically altered spider -- and his true love, Mary Jane Watson.
Their romance is played up even though, as characters, they remain vapid. What was an interesting train wreck is now just an ordinary, if uncommonly expensive, one.
The Arachne story has been reduced to a school project that Peter (the charmingly unprepossessing Reeve Carney) introduces in the first scene. It remains one of Taymor’s most striking images: a row of women suspended in yellow silk, swinging back and forth as horizontal strands form a golden tapestry.
But the cloth now looks wrinkled and tired, as does much of a cast that has been giving its all for so long. The songs still stop the show in its tracks because they’re pop songs, not theater songs that get inside the characters while advancing the plot.
Jennifer Damiano is affectless as Mary Jane, but she sings nicely. Patrick Page still seems to be having a ball as Norman Osborne/Green Goblin. Michael Mulheren still nearly steals the show as J. Jonah Jameson, the newspaper editor convinced that Spidey is a thief. After three times sitting through this empty spectacle, I’m inclined to agree.
At the Foxwoods Theatre, 213 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-307-4100; http://www.ticketmaster.com Rating: *1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** 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.)