SPIDER-MAN: Turn Off the Dark is Spectacle to See on Broadway

by Eric Leiberman

Spider-Man makes his New York debut. © Jacob Cohl

The reason that Broadway theater has such appeal is that it is live, immediate, and anything can happen. In contrast, movies are all illusion.

SPIDER-MAN Turn Off the Dark which opened June 14 at the Foxwoods Theater (finally and for real after months of previews and a “re-imagining”) brings the best of both experiences together: it is like sitting inside a 3-D movie – and with all the thrill and excitement of the immediacy of a live performance. The fact of the matter is that this show is not traditional Broadway. It feels more like Cirque du Soleil.

Beyond theater, it is spectacle such as Broadway has never seen before, and probably never will again for its complexity and cost, which at something like $65 million is twice the previously most expensive musical to produce (“Shrek-The Musical”), and more on par with a blockbuster movie than a musical that has to be seen live, 8 times a week, to recoup its investment and $1 million/week operating cost. It is, in fact, a new category of “mega-musical.”

The uniqueness in the annals of Broadway musicals is significant enough to bring people to see it, but what people are really coming for is the risk: the risk as a Broadway business venture in this economy, and also because of the daring stunts on stage.

Because of accidents that took place in the first incarnation of SPIDER-MAN (prompting jokes that people were coming to the musical like watching a car wreck to happen), the stunts have been curtailed, but we still found this aspect of the show absolutely thrilling.

Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano in a scene from "SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark" © Jacob Cohl.

The flying sequences are what make SPIDER-MAN so original (and expensive). Men in bright-colored costumes fly what feels like a mere five-feet above my head. My girlfriend tossed and turned in her seat, throwing her hands over her head because she was actually afraid that one of these guys could fall on her. Sweat from the villain of the story drips down on the audience as he swings overhead chasing SPIDER-MAN. This is exciting because it is real. It doesn’t matter that you see the wires. It doesn’t at all take away from the amazement of it all. And the props and sets are an obvious mesh of reality and comic book.

SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark finds a fresh way to tell a story inspired by over 40 years of Marvel comic books. The musical follows the story of teenager Peter Parker, whose unremarkable life is turned upside-down, literally, when he’s bitten by a genetically altered spider and wakes up the next morning clinging to his bedroom ceiling. This bullied science-geek suddenly endowed with astonishing powers soon learns, however, that with great power comes great responsibility as villains test not only his physical strength but also his strength of character. That’s the story, but the challenge is bringing this to the Broadway stage.

SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark hurtles the audience through a thrilling experience in ways never-before-dreamed-possible in live theater.

A scene from "SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark" © Jacob Cohl

But after a record-breaking 180 preview performances, when reviewers derided the show, SPIDER-MAN was reimagined by a new team, Philip William McKinley – a director whose credits include several versions of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth” as well as The Boy From Oz and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a writer of both plays and comic books (Fantastic Four and Spider-Man comics, “Big Love”).

Besides the daring-do of the aerial spectacles, and sets that seem to have popped out of a comic book, SPIDER-MAN is also notable for featuring music and lyrics by 22-time Grammy Award-winners Bono and The Edge of U-2, who had never written for musical theater before, and that in itself adds to the intrigue of seeing the show. Much of the music sounds like some of the classic rifts and Bono voice that made U2 an international sensation. In fact, in a lot of the songs, you can almost hear Bono singing and not Reeve Carney. I don’t think that Bono and the Edge were meant to write Broadway music. But some of the tunes are catchy and some of the duets are very beautiful. And the messages of the music and show are accessible and even valuable for younger viewers.

The original direction was by Tony® Award-winner Julie Taymor, who was Broadway’s darling in the way she brought “The Lion King” to life (as well as Across The Universe, Frida). She also co-wrote the book with Glen Berger.

But the real stars of SPIDER-MAN are the creative team who manage to bring a two-dimensional cartoon to life: Daniel Ezralow (Choreography and Aerial Choreography), Chase Brock (Additional Choreography), George Tsypin (Scenic Design), Academy Award®-winner Eiko Ishioka (Costume Design), Tony® Award-winner Donald Holder (Lighting Design), Jonathan Deans (Sound Design), Kyle Cooper (Projection Design), Julie Taymor (Mask Design), Campbell Young Associates/Luc Verschueren (Hair Design), Judy Chin (Makeup Design), Scott Rogers (Aerial Design), Jaque Paquin (Aerial Rigging Design), Howard Werner (Media Design), Louie Zakarian (Prosthetics Design), David Campbell (Arrangements and Orchestrations), Teese Gohl (Music Supervision and Vocal Arrangements), Paul Bogaev (Music Producer), and Kimberly Grigsby (Music Direction and Vocal Arrangements.

Patrick Page steals the show as the villain, Norman Osborn/Green Goblin in "SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark" © Jacob Cohl

The complete cast includes Reeve Carney asPeter Parker/Spider-Man, Tony® Award nominee Jennifer Damiano as Mary Jane Watson T.V. Carpio as Arachne, Patrick Page as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, Michael Mulheren, Ken Marks, Isabel Keating, Jeb Brown, Matthew James Thomas, Laura Beth Wells, Matt Caplan, Dwayne Clark, Luther Creek, Kevin Aubin, Gerald Avery, Collin Baja, Marcus Bellamy, Emmanuel Brown, Jessica Leigh Brown, Daniel Curry, Erin Elliott, Craig Henningsen, Dana Marie Ingraham, Ayo Jackson, Joshua Kobak, Megan Lewis, Ari Loeb, Natalie Lomonte, Kevin Loomis, Kristin Martin, Jodi McFadden, Bethany Moore, Kristen Faith Oei, Jennifer Christine Perry, Kyle Post, Brandon Rubendall, Sean Samuels, Dollar Tan, Joey Taranto, and Christopher W. Tierney.

SPIDER-MAN will appeal to the most avid theater-goers who will appreciate it for its historic nature, but especially the not-your-average theatergoer. And I can guarantee that kids everywhere will be begging their parents to take them. The show is surely a bit gimmicky. But there are flashes of emotion in the powerful performances of the leads (particularly Jennifer Damiano, who was nominated for a Tony for her performance as Mary-Jane and Patrick Page as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin .

The show will likely neither make or break your heart, but it may be the most fun you’ll have on Broadway this year.

Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano in a scene from "SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark" © Jacob Cohl

Music from SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark has just been released by Interscope Records. With 14 original songs co-written by Bono and The Edge for the Broadway production, SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark, the album is produced by Steve Lillywhite. Songs are performed by members of the cast including Reeve Carney, Jennifer Damiano, T.V. Carpio and Patrick Page, with contributions from Bono and The Edge and music performed by the production’s orchestra. The lead single, “Rise Above 1” performed by Reeve Carney featuring Bono and The Edge, and produced by Alex Da Kid, is available for purchase now on iTunes and Amazon.

SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark is playing at the Foxwoods Theatre (213 West 42nd Street), Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Tickets are now on sale through October 2, 2011, with group tickets on sale through January 8, 2012. Tickets are priced from $67.50 – $135 for weekday performances and $67.50 – $140 for weekend performances and can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com or by calling (877) 250-2929. Tickets are also available at the Foxwoods Theatre box office, which is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Sunday, noon – 6 p.m. See the website, spidermanonbroadway.marvel.com.

Wednesday, 6 July, 2011

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