After months of troubled previews and tumultuous press, the musical Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark officially opened on Broadway this past Tuesday. I saw the show in March as part of the 2011 Syfy Channel Upfront, and I shared my thoughts on A.D.D. back then. After receiving a press invitation to attend one of the first post-opening night shows, I got the chance to see it again on Friday night and compare it with the previous incarnation (or one of them, as I heard there were many).
The show definitely followed the approach I thought it would take by becoming populist entertainment. It’s not that the original show was not meant for the masses, but deposed director Julie Taymor admirably wanted to elevate the comic book to the level of Greek tragedy. It was a respectful and respectable approach; it just did not come together. This streamlined version is more to the point, stripping away many elements and adding new ones, including revised dialogue and music. It’s surprising that they were able to pull it off in three weeks.
Here’s my analysis and breakdown of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark 2.0. If you have not seen the production or know much about Spider-Man (the comic book, movie or musical) and are anxious to see it, you might want to wait to see the show before you read the SPOILERS BELOW.
1. Arachne’s role is greatly diminished. She is no longer a villainous foil; now she is a sympathetic ear.
2. As a result of that first change, the focus is on the romance between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson and the battles between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin.
3. The first act is shorter than the second; an unexpected format twist. You still get your 2 1/2 hours worth. And the climax of the original production’s first act has become its new finale.
4. Given that this show tries to replicate a Sixties comic book in earnest, some of the humor is unintentional; however, a brand new scene where the Goblin desperately navigates a glib Daily Bugle receptionist and an automated voicemail system to leave irascible editor J. Jonah Jameson a sinister message is pretty hilarious. It does make you more sympathetic to him. Consider it his Dr. Evil moment.
5. Modern references to the Internet and Facebook, phrases like “rock star” and the invocation of recent problems like global warming have been injected into a show that used to have a more retro vibe. This gives it a more current tone, which it needed.
6. Scientist/industrialist Norman Osborn now knows a lot more about Peter Parker before his ghoulish transformation into the Green Goblin. That adds a new, more personal layer to their antagonism.
7. The Geek Chorus has been silenced and the guitarist and bassist removed from the side of the stage.
8. The Green Goblin and the Sinister Six get a big dance number at the beginning of Act Two. Not sure how I feel about that, although the tune is kind of catchy.
9. The Sinister Six get more face time as well, terrorizing citizens on stage and not just on video, and briefly taking turns battling Spidey. The Lizard, however, looks particularly ridiculous as he chases around overly hysterical extras.
10. Uncle Ben gets more stage time, which is good because his death carries more weight. Aunt May also turns up a bit more.
11. The government military contractors trying to woo Osborn are now a private military film like Blackwater.
12. The connection between the Sinister Six and the Green Goblin is strengthened, but it flies in the face of Marvel Comics history by invalidating all of its member villain origins.
13. The overhead battle between Spidey and the Goblin works without any hitches, and Spidey, who hits marks on each of the two balconies, now also lands at least twice in the orchestra aisles to bring him even closer to the throng. The fight choreography is impressive.
14. In order to make the show more audience friendly, streams of confetti Spidey webbing are launched over the front part of the orchestra to amuse and distract people.
15. Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano are good but not outstanding as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson (and I give them props for the physical demands of their roles). The scene stealing Patrick Page brings enhanced mirth and menace to his role as the Green Goblin in version 2.0, and he gets all the great lines.
16. I did not find many of the songs by Bono and The Edge that memorable the first time around, but “Bouncing Off The Walls,” “Rise Above,” “A Freak Like Me Needs Company” and the Spider-Man guitar melody actually stuck with me this time.
Is version 2.0 of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark better than its predecessor(s)? Yes, because the story is simplified, the action amped up and the direction more clear. It still could use more of an edge, no pun intended, but that’s probably not what the producers wanted to take a risk on with this revision. Was making a Spider-Man musical a good idea? No, but at least this version is more palatable to a mainstream audience, even if it is less intellectually demanding. (Many critics argue that it’s still a dud.) At least there is more to emotionally connect with now. If you’re looking for tongue-in-cheek, escapist entertainment without high expectations, you might enjoy it, like the numerous people who left the theater with smiles on their faces and the many who eagerly waited for the stars to come out from the stage door. Turn Off The Dark did gross $1.28 million its first week back, besting the superior Book Of Mormon.
Many true Spider-Man fans, however, will still roll their eyes with contempt.