Sunday, June 19, 2011

Spiderman-Turn Off The Dark...Not Your Mom's musical

Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano in a scene from “SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark” © Jacob Cohl
 So the fact that I found Spiderman-Turn Off The Dark exciting and entertaining makes sense.  Most of the 'critics' who work for big snooty papers like NYT and WSJ say it sucks.  But if you're going to compare it to Streetcar Named Desire or Our Town for play-writing?  Yes, the script is lame...IT'S BASED ON COMIC BOOKS PEOPLE!! If you want to put it in a wrestling match with any other musical's score?  Seriously, for me the only show that ever really had great songs was Chorus Line.  All the old Rogers,Hammerstein, Hart and Gershwin stuff all sounded the same and Andrew Lloyd Webber really had one hit with "Superstar" because EVERYTHING after that is the same score...over (Cats), and over (Whistle Down The Wind) and over (Starlight Express) again.

Lets start with the score.  I was nervous.  U2 has worn on me over the years.  Back in the Joshua Tree days I loved Bono but he's grown into an old, pompous ass.  The Edge however has never lost that distinct 'edginess'.  And it is that signature guitar riffing that barrels through on more than one song in the Spiderman repertoire.  Heck, these Irish rockers were even pretentious enough to include one of U2's biggest hits, "Hello", in this final rework of Broadway's biggest monstrosity to date.  Did I like it? Yes!  Why?  Because it isn't "like every other musical".  The style of the songs don't try to be rock, they just are.  'Superstar; tried too hard to be a "rock opera" unlike "Tommy" (which...I know was a concept recorded album before it was even a movie) which was organically just that.  The Spiderman score sort of fits the designated criteria with the love song, the power ballad, the big dance number, the huge finale's the songs.  Even "Bullying By The Numbers", the cheesy dance scene with all the one is wearing tap shoes or a straw boater nor do you get that feel from the song.  It's definitely "Not Your Mom's Musical". 

As far as the technical aspects of this show?  They go from 21st century technology to 1950's electro-mechanics.  The set piece graphics borrow the angled perspective that is part of traditional comic book art.  Lots of black, gray and white with RED and YELLOW and BLUE being punched at you to make you gasp.  Truly a "wow factor".
A scene from “SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark”
© Jacob Cohl

Many have written about the craziness of the rigging for all the 'flying' called for in this show.  Even to watch it up close with the eye of an engineer, this shit is unreal.  What the 'flight crew' achieves with harnesses, cables, weights and other weird mechanical devices, has them swooping within a few feet of the tops of the heads of sections of the orchestra to soaring to landing pads on the edge of the upper balcony.  At one point I, literally, had the Green Goblin in my face (8th row center). 

Then there are the subtle nuances of the electric "El" train that travels on its little track above the stage.  I will say one thing that could be worked on is the fire escape element for "If The World Ends".  I'm a purist so if you're sitting on a fire escape that is lag-bolted to a brick shouldn't swing when Reeve or Jennifer move.  They need to maybe drop a couple of weighted cables to the floor of the stage to keep the rig still.  But other than that?  Lightweight fabric backlit with red and orange with a fan under it to cause the flames of a burning building? Awesome.  Using hydraulics to angle the center of the stage to provide perspective (big effect introduced by Cats in the 80's). Perfection.  But then to take those mechanics and hydraulics to the next level raising and lowering backdrop pieces along with creating the huge Chrysler building set for the final fight between Spidey and the Goblin...totally badass.  Add a lighting design that is beyond words and sound that belongs in an arena pop or rock show, visually and sonically your senses will be on overload (note to parents, please provide ear plugs or other sound attenuation for children under 12. It gets very loud in some parts and the explosions are really loud).

Costuming goes from simple to downright nuts.  Carnage comes the closest to his comic book version after the web thrower himself.  The Green Goblin will scare the shit out of you while Electro and his handheld pyro-technics is 'shocking'.  Aunt May and Uncle Ben are still the 1960's versions of Stan Lee's creations while chorus members span era's from the 50's to the 21st century.  Bad guys and victims are clad in three-dimensional versions of old-school comic book pen and ink drawings while Peter Sports a two-town denim jacket that mirrors the "Spidey suit".

Patrick Page in a scene from
“SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark”
© Jacob Cohl

As for the acting?  It's over-the-top in some parts, not emoted enough in others but at the end of the day...IT'S SPIDERMAN!!  It's a comic book brought to the stage.  Reeve Carney's rock chops are a necessity so the fact that he had to learn how to act and dance too?  He did a damned decent job.  Can he improve?  Yes.  He and Damiano need to work on making the love scenes a little more believable.  On the flipside, Isabel Keating, Patrick Page and Michael Mulheren kill it.  Keating plays three roles-Aunt May, the teacher and a Bugle reporter.  She is reserved and mushy as May, sassy as the teacher and snarky as the reporter.  Page is superb as both Norman Osborn and The Green Goblin.  Flamboyant, fierce and downright frightening with a biting wit that has all the adults laughing (yeah,  I'll venture even the tightasses from the Times).  That Patrick can face-act through the mask and all that makeup is really his crowning achievement in this show and if it doesn't get him a Tony nod, I'll be shocked.  As for Mulheren?  He IS J.J. Jameson, brimming over with bombastic energy teetering on the edge of a major coronary any second.  He too is the source of a lot of the show's comedy.

I guess, without really knowing the subjectivity of rating stars for live theater, I'd give it three.  It needs work.  Parts need to be polished up like being able to see an exiting flyer still when the next one enters.  Mary Jane needs a shot of caffeine directly to a vein and the chorus should spending more time with the dance captain and a case of Red Bull.  I think those things will work themselves out as the show continues.  I'd like to give a special shout out to Chris Tierney for not only returning to the show but continuing to fly his little heart out.  He also is impressive as Grim (Kraven) Hunter even though that part doesn't involve a lot.

The show is definitely worth the ticket prices.  Between still paying for some unbelievable set pieces, like the "Goblin globe", the power bill to run this thing, technicians and their maintenance of everything along with the poor souls who have to clean up all the paper "webs" at the end of every performance...this show costs an assload of money to keep running.  But it is worth every cent if you are into superheroes, comic books, blockbuster spectacles and decent rock music.

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