Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Music and lyrics by Bono and The Edge, book by Julie Taymor, Glen Berger and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Foxwoods Theatre, New York

Gawky, geeky young Peter Parker, the archetypal bespectacled nerd, gets bitten by a spider and acquires superhuman powers. The Broadway show that depicts his life story has undergone a similar transformation, gaining the kind of mythic status that far exceeds its surface appeal.

Statistics often mislead but Spider-Man – Turn off the Dark can boast an impressive array. If the Green Goblin (more of him later) is to be believed, the producers have sunk an exorbitant $75 million (£50 million) into a show that along the way has seen several changes of personnel, some forced by aerial injuries, and an incredibly delayed opening that at one point seemed in danger of permanent postponement.

This is the kind of disaster waiting to happen that only Spider-Man or one of his close friends could avert, and he has triumphantly done so.

Last week, ending on New Year’s Day 2012, the web-weaving vanquisher of evil and his vast array of friends grossed just shy of $3 million (£2 million). In doing so, the company set a Broadway record that only they are likely to match, given that nobody else has large numbers of Premium Seats selling (and they are) at $314 (over £200) including booking fees.

A reputation like that plus an impressive global publicity machine is self-fulfilling and will ensure that this show continues to sell well even in the dark days of winter. Spider-Man is the Broadway experience that nobody wants to miss.

What visitors actually get has some unforgettable facets but also areas that show a little more human fallibility.

By far the most impressive aspects of the evening are the special effects, collectively created by designers George Tsypin (scenic) Kyle Cooper (projections) and Scott Rogers (aerial) adding to the vision of Julie Taymor, who was the original director, and Philip Wm. McKinley who took over. These literally dazzle at times.

In support of Reeve Carney in the lead, there is a team of aerial Spider-Men who fly out over the audience defying death and injury and landing in the “flying circles” to excite audience members there, until the final spectacular battle with the dastardly GG takes place over the auditorium.

This complements some stunning computer graphics projected at giant size, and large sets, conveying the traditional comic book spirit.

Enjoying the visual extravaganza, which borrows heavily from the techniques used at upmarket rock concerts, it is possible to see where some of the money has gone and why people continue to flock to 42nd Street.

The plot is predictable, which may help tourists with limited English language skills. Innocent Peter gets bullied, becomes a superhero and vanquishes the evil Green Goblin, played strongly at this performance by Jeb Brown, before getting the girl, Rebecca Faulkenberry’s sweet Mary Jane.

One of the high points should be the music, which has been composed by Bono and The Edge from U2 who also provide the lyrics. However, by far the strongest song is "Vertigo", which is imported for a club scene having been written for the band’s 2004 album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb—a task that even Spider-Man doesn’t attempt.

Of the songs written for the show, for some reason the Green Goblin gets the pick with "A Freak Like Me Needs Company", by some way the best for both music and lyrics.

Both Carney and Miss Faulkenberry, each fresh and likable, get their opportunities primarily with power ballads such as "Bouncing Off the Walls" and "I Can’t Just Walk Away" good examples.

The former is critical to the evening as it follows Peter Parker’s change of costume and muscle distribution and marks the launch of the action after an opening as limp as the weedy schoolboy,

Overall, visitors clearly like the product and visually, Spider-Man – Turn off the Dark is unbeatable. With this kind of investment, more discerning theatregoers might have expected songs that remained with them for rather longer than this selection and perhaps a little more sophistication in the storytelling.

As long as the tickets keep selling, the producers will not be worried about a few artistic question marks regarding what could not only recoup its mega-investment later in 2012 but ultimately become the most profitable show in history.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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