Review: Spider-man Turn Off the Dark

It’s not that bad! I was a good boy and stayed away until the actual, much-delayed press opening, so I did not see ousted director Julie Taymor’s original vision for Spider-man Turn Off The Dark. As one of my friends observed, however, her fingerprints are still all over the show. In particular one truly stunning sequence early in the show about the spider-woman demigoddess Arachne is pure Taymor, and ravishing.

Spider-man is easily one of sthe most eye-popping spectacles ever to appear on the Broadway stage, and that is only partially due to the much-hyped aerial stunts. Fantastically complicated and flashy as they are, they are still aerial stunts largely as we have known them – visible wires and all. It’s Kyle Cooper’s projection design that truly steals the show, bringing fresh, welcome rock-show razzle-dazzle to the Broadway stage.

I had heard that the score by U2’s Bono and the Edge was disappointing, but I’d call that an exaggeration. It has tremendous theatricality and grandeur – much like the Bond theme they wrote, “Goldeneye” – and generates the energy to drive the evening along. A fairer criticism would be that only a few of the songs have enough character to stand alone like U2’s hits do.

What is still definitely off (in spite of reports that the composers have been focusing on it), is Jonathan Deans’s sound design. I had a devil of a time making out too many lyrics beyond the choruses. And there are certainly some places where the composers do Deans no favors; a song called “Pull the Trigger” is almost entirely rap-sung by a quartet – no chance of ever making those lyrics out no matter how crystal clear the sound design. As far as I’m concerned one of the hard and fast rules of lyric writing for the theatre is this: if it is important that lyrics be understood, then you must have them sung first by an individual. That rule is broken with distressing regularity here.

In the final analysis, though, Spider-man Turn Off the Dark actually doesn’t suck. In fact, I’d definitely recommend it as a teenager’s first musical – its story, while predictable, is briskly engaging, the show’s undeniably a treat for the eyes, and certainly not lacking for visual and musical excitement. It’s not quite worth what it cost to make it, but it would certainly be worth the ticket price for somebody new to the theatre. Not deeply satisfying, but an okay time.

For tickets, click here.

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