It’s become bloodsport to pick on Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. But the question is, how is the show? The flying sequences are amazing, and it’s certainly entertaining, if with few plot surprises if you’ve seen the first movie. An army of muscular stunt doubles backs up the durable Reeve Carney as Peter Parker, who pretty much carries the show on his slender shoulders, with his pleasing, caramel-pop voice and charming demeanor. He is supported by Patrick Page in a scenery-chewing turn as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (plus a team of genetically mutated bad guys), whose gregarious personality shines even through a green plastic suit of armor. His voice is a force of nature, alternately rumbling like Barry White or wheedling his antagonists. Jennifer Damiano is sweet as MJ, although she sounds best in soft ballads rather than a higher range. And the added character of Arachne, a sort of spider-spirit, is played by TV Carpio, who possesses a voice with huge pop potential.
But without a doubt, the aerobatic scenes (by Scott Rogers) are the highlight. Julie Taymor had wanted to stage the show in a bigtop tent, which would likely be incredible if an altogether different show, but in the Foxwoods Theater, much of the flying takes place over the audience in the orchestra, filling us with fear as well as exhilaration. The rigging system (by Jaque Paquin) is so sophisticated that the dancers can make pinpoint landings—either in the aisles, or on tiny platforms mounted on the balconies. Some of the most character defining poses were done by the Spidey doubles, their legs forming crisp diamond shapes, fingers—projecting invisible webs—leading the way (although Carney does some major flying as well). And I did fear for Carney in “Bouncing Off the Walls,” in which, suspended, he repeatedly slams into spring-mounted cartoon walls. Daniel Ezralow and Chase Brock are credited for the Earth-based choreography, which is nearly superfluous and unmemorable, apart from a giddy army scene featuring lots of stomping and air punching.
Technology is clearly stepped up in this production. Huge panels of LEDs slide into place (Kyle Cooper designed the projections), which display video or CGI images, including the mandatory “splat” and “bam” icons. The stage is dotted with small elevators and even a treadmill, on which Peter and MJ stroll. A ramp that raises and lowers acts as the Brooklyn Bridge, from which MJ dangles (more iconic than the movie’s Queensboro). But I was disappointed that the show didn’t somehow transform the space more, in the way that both American Idiot did (the theater space as a vertical shaft, a metaphor for the continual pull of gravity/possibility of failure) and Spring Awakening (integrating the audience into the stage).
Oh – about the music, by Bono and The Edge… At thrilling moments there is no mistaking The Edge’s guitar lines and the pleasing bombast of U2, but these are few. Many of the songs generally lack U2’s sound, and the vocal arrangements are sometimes strained. It’s a mercy that the production lacks the screeching Broadway belter approach to singing, but U2 fans, with deservedly high expectations, may find it disappointing, albeit in part redeemed by the aerobatics.