Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark – Broadway's Underrated Musical Gem

Unless you're literally too young to remember, the recent history of Marvel's foray into Broadway musicals is pretty well-seared into the brains of comic and musical fans alike, though admittedly not for the reasons it should be. Owing to unfortunate stunt accidents during rehearsals and previews on top of an ever-shifting creative direction, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark's journey to opening night June 14, 2011, was less than smooth – and naturally, its debut was far later than anyone had hoped for. However, despite the rough road to arrive at opening night a decade ago, the show as it premiered in the Foxwoods Theatre was enjoyable, nerdy but still accessible and interesting to non-geek audiences.

Full disclosure: young Eden did attend a performance of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, and though my research is objective, the performance filtered through the lens of youth did make for one incredibly awesome show with some stellar memories, even a decade later.

SpiderMan: Turn Off The Dark, Broadway's Underrated Musical Gem
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark Promotional Poster. All Marvel Comics characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are Trademarks & Copyright © 1941-2021 Marvel Characters, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

First and foremost, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark started the development process back in 2002, right on the heels of Sam Rami's successful Spider-Man film. Marvel enlisted veteran musical producer Tony Adams, who promptly got U2's Bono and The Edge onboard to write the music. Julie Taymor was brought on to direct, having just directed Broadway's recent hit, The Lion King, which was also a creatively staged film adaptation that captured the spirit of the original story.

Unfortunately, the show did run into several issues, the first being Adams dying literally in the middle of contract signings in 2005. His assistant, an entertainment lawyer, took over producing duties alongside Taymor, eliminating any creative resistance from the voice of experience (which is an important part of the process – a lack of someone saying "no" is how we ended up with things like The Star Wars Holiday Special). By 2007, the show was officially announced and had its first script reads, though that far from meant the show was ready to be staged.

It faced a multitude of budget issues, mostly due to the fact that the Foxwoods theatre had to be retrofitted to safely accommodate the multiple fly rigs and bring the new additions up to safety codes. (Spoiler: there were still multiple investigations and fines from Actor's Equity, OSHA, and the New York Department of Labor.) Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark is reported to have had a budget of $65 – $75 million, with weekly operating costs said to be just above a million dollars. Paired with the numerous stunt accidents in rehearsals and previews, the musical quickly got a reputation for being expensive, dangerous, and confusing. The latter was due to a lengthy under-developed subplot and a slow-moving second act. There were spiders wearing high heel shoes – it was admittedly a mess.

…Which is the exact reason why it shut down while still in previews, which lasted over six months and creative changes were made, including Taymor leaving and script re-writes being tasked to Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (a comic writer at the time, now Riverdale creator and showrunner). Aguirre-Sacasa brought the story back to comics/film land and away from the Greek mythology sub-plot with the goddess Arachne acting as the main villain and trying to control Peter (or something – I read the original script, and it's still unclear, but there was her and the furies robbing a shoe store and giving Peter weird romantic-like nightmares; the show is far better off without that dominating act two).

With the rising popularity of rock operas and musicals with heavily commercially-influenced scores, like Green Day's American Idiot musical and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, as well as films adapted for the stage, like the (at the time) recently successful Legally Blonde musical, the time was right to finally unveil Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark. Though it technically opened after all these shows, it was in development. It was announced far before, likely aiding in launching the popularity of both rock musicals and movie-musical adaptations alike (Beetlejuice, Heathers, or Mean Girls, anyone?).

The popularly dubbed "Spider-Man Musical 2.0" opened fully ten years ago with a revised script and safe stunts. However, it had already lost the confidence of critics and fans unwilling to give it another chance. While it's already difficult to justifying judging art, it's incredibly unfair to judge incomplete art. Unfortunately, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was forced to present a rather incomplete form as a first impression to the public. Along with the bad publicity and constant delays, it created a legacy that largely ignored the show's completed final version.

The musical that opened on that June night was full of guitar riffs, high-flying stunts and action, larger-than-life set pieces and creative staging, and most of all, heart and passion. It was exciting, high-energy, and felt fun, especially for fans used to seeing Spider-Man and other characters in such an inaccessible capacity. The musical brought these characters and stories not only to life but into an intimate space where Spider-Man was running through the aisles after landing on the balcony. It not only felt real, but it brought the audience into the action in a unique way only Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark could.

Though it got a lot of flack and a terrible reputation at the time for being an unsafe, expensive, confusing mess of a show, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark is an enjoyable Broadway re-imagining with action, a catchy score, and a fascinating (albeit tragic) journey to the stage. Plus, DIY World has been stuck in my head for the last decade – it's a banger.

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About Eden Arnold

Eden enjoys watching baking shows with her cat, and they have lots of opinions about television (as well as movies and everything else). She puts this to good use along with her journalism degree and writing experience with by-lines over the years in newspapers, magazines, books, and online media outlets. You can find her on Twitter and IG at @Edenhasopinions.
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