Review: Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark – And Turn On The Magic!

Review: Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark – And Turn On The Magic!So there are reports of mishaps. Preview bugs. Calamity on stage. Broken bits. But what do the fans think? Let's ask Little Bleeder John, an engineer whose been reading Spider-Man for twenty-two years. But never seen it so… sung before. So John? Are you a cynical, world weary fanboy? Seen it all before? Aware of all the problems, stoppages, cracks in performance and as a result sworn off the webslinger for life? What did you really think?

It. Was. Awesome!

I loved the musical.  The sets and stunts were amazing, the story was alright, the acting was great, and the music was very good.  My one small fanboy gripe though is that they say Peter goes to Queens High School and Columbia University in the play.  He went to Midtown High and Empire State University in the comics.  I don't know why they said he went to those schools in the play and not the ones he went to in the comics.  I mean, a quick google search would tell them the correct names of his schools.  It's not that big of a deal, but something so small that they couldn't get it right just seems lazy.

Okay, look, I told you he was a fanboy, stick with it.

They changed a fair amount of the story in the comics to get things to mesh well in the show.  The origin story heavily mirrored the movies.  I guess this was done to appeal to the larger audience than just the comic fans. The first act tells Spidey and Goblin's origin story and it almost felt like watching the first Spidey movie but as a musical.  The second act focuses not on the Goblin, but on a new character Arachne who is based upon the Greek myth.  She is beautifully introduced in the first act in an scene having dancers on wires weave a tapestry behind her while she tells her story of how she was transformed from a woman into a spider by the goddess Athena.

There are some spoilers after this because I don't know how to review it without talking about what happened in the story. So stop reading here if you don't want to know about the story and awesome stunts they performed.  I will say this though, I am definitely going to go back and see it once they work out all the kinks.

I must premise this by saying it was a preview showing and not opening night.  They don't have all the kinks worked out for the elaborate stunts and some problems arose which led to stoppages.  In my opinion, the majority of the audience did not seem to mind and the producer did say there were going to be stops because it is a preview showing and the stunts were not completely worked out.  There were 5 stops total during the show (4 during the first act and 1 during the second) and the intermission went longer than planned to start the second act because they were getting stuff ready.  The stops were as follows:

1) Spidey gets his powers, wakes up on the ceiling in his bedroom and starts bouncing off the walls, which was a great and fun scene.  The scene ends with him doing a jump and lockers coming in front of him to transition back to him at school.  The stopped happened here because I guess it took a little longer to get out of the harness than they originally thought.  This can be easily fixed by adding a few extra bars of music and having an extra stage hand ready to help get the harness off.

2) Arachne got stuck hanging at one point.  Most likely a mechanical problem with her harness.  The stage director talked to the audience for a bit and everyone applauded the actress playing Arachne because apparently she's hanging from that rig 6 hours a day.

3) Costume problem before the Green Goblin/Spidey fight on the Chrysler building.  I think it was an issue with the ropes tied around Spidey's hands behind his back.  He was below the stage at this point and not visible.  To kill time, they had the Goblin do some improv on the piano and the audience ate it up.

4) End of the first act, Spidey is supposed to swing from the stage up to the second (or third) balcony for a big dramatic ending.  Unfortunately it didn't work right and he just kind of floated over the audience for a bit.  The stunt man then went on to do some cool flips and other wire harness tricks for our enjoyment.  The stage hands spent a few minutes trying to grab him, but he was out of reach for a while leading to few failed attempts at grabbing him.  Very funny to watch.

5) I don't really remember why they stopped in the second act. It was right before the climax. I'm guessing it was another harness issue.  At this point though some woman in the audience took it upon herself to loudly announce to the entire theater her displeasure with the show saying "This seems more like a dress rehearsal than the final play and still needs work." At which point everyone in the audience began to boo her.  I was in complete shock when she said this.  The balls on that lady to say that while the actors are on stage waiting to start again; they must have been very shocked and upset by hearing her yell this.  I hope though they realized the majority of us did love the show and their spirits were uplifted by the entire theater booing this obnoxious woman.

Enough about the problems though, let's talk about the show itself.

What, you mean like hardly anyone else has? Really?

The first act was outstanding. The stunts were fantastic. They literally had Spidey jumping from the stage to the balconies.  Goblin and Spidey had a huge battle flying over the heads of the audience and Spidey literally jumps on to Goblin's back while flying.  I really liked how they worked in Spidey using the wires of the harness as his webs, it adds to the fantasy and the illusion.  At one point, Spidey and Goblin are fighting on top of the Chrystler building and Spidey jumps off the side.  The entire set changes perspective so the tip of the Chrystler is now pointing at the audience and your looking down on to the street.  It was awesome. They also had a great cameo appearance by Hammerhead robbing a bank which was a huge wink/nod to us fanboys.

The second act was kind of weird.  They introduced Carnage, Kraven, the Lizard, Electro, Swarm and Swiss Miss (a villain made for the show); they looked great, but they really don't do anything.  The second half of the show really used a lot of the visual effects on screens in the background playing videos to tell the story rather than having them actually acting.  And Spidey quickly dispatches them by shooting webs at the screen to get to the anti-climactic climax versus another made-up character called Arachne.  The second act's story didn't really mesh that well with the first and confused me.  It was almost like they were two different stories in the first and second act that were loosely connected by a few weak threads.

The first act was so great (although a bit slow at times), but the second act was kind of a let down.  The story was hard to follow, especially in the second act.  I wasn't crazy about the "geek chorus." They had these 4 "geeks" sort of acting as the narrators of the show telling the story of Spider-Man, often filling in parts of the story that were impossible to do in a live play (i.e. Spidey jumping off the side of the building to catch MJ and release her from the piano she was tied to before hitting the street).  The problem I had with the geek chorus is that they weren't really introduced as narrators and they were sometimes included in the scene talking to Spidey and Osbourne which made it confusing to me at least whether they were outside the show as the narrator or part of the story itself.  Also, as Kathleen said, they weren't geeky enough.  They looked more like indie/emo hipsters with their skinny jeans, black hoodies, mac books, and ski caps than comic geeks.  I looked geekier than them in my button down and Spidey cuff links than they did.

As for the performances:

– The girl that played Arachne was an amazing singer and I loved seeing her on stage.
– I really liked the guy playing Peter.  He was much better than I expected from that performance they had of him singing a song on the today show a few months ago.  You believed you were watching Peter Parker.
– The Green Goblin steals the show in the first act as both the Goblin and as Norman.
– The girl playing MJ was lacking presence and kind of just "there." Her songs were nice and she could sing well, but when she came on stage I often found myself thinking "Oh hey, your back again. Please hurry up so I can see more Spidey and Goblin. Thanks."  She was good, but could have been better.
– J. Jonah Jameson was great and I loved him.

The music was great and during the heavier rock songs you definitely could tell Bono and the Edge wrote it.  It had a very U2 feel to it.  The guitar and bass players stood on the side of the stage the entire time playing and it was great to watch them.  I didn't see it, but my wife assures me at one point during the show the guitar player got whacked in the head by one of the ropes from a harness.  Like a pro though, he kept on playing and didn't let it affect him.

Despite the stops, strange story, and anti-climatic ending, I loved the show and definitely want to go back to see it once its in full swing (pun intended).

I was going to take pics and tweet them during the show, but they said anyone caught would have their phone confiscated for the first offense and would be ejected from the theater during the second.  I easily could have snapped a few since my iPhone doesn't have a flash, but I didn't want to risk it.  I did take a quick shot of the stage curtain before the show.

With great power, comes great responsibility and with great hype, comes a great musical!

And a great reviewer. Thanks, John. Now get back to that engineering…

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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