“Spiderman” musical a technical marvel (Updated)

Yes, this is a review of a preview. No, the show has not officially opened (I saw preview #23) but that’s the way it goes. When a show of this caliber opens in NYC, charges full price for tickets, and pushes back official press openings, the gentleman’s rule no longer applies. Thousands of people a day are seeing the show AS IS, so this review is for the production AS IS. I paid my 140.00, I can say whatever I want at this point.

(Update: The opening has now been pushed back to March 15. Expect most reviews to arrive on February 8th, the pushed back opening date. Many papers, blogs, and websites have already reviewed the show, among them the Toronto Star).

So, here’s my take. I really liked Spiderman: Turn off the Dark quite a lot. Really. Granted, this isn’t a show that is high on story nuances, and is designed to be a spectacle. The source material dictates this. But the show is far far from the disaster that the nay-Sayers have been salivating their shadenfreudened lips over.

First, the production is a technical marvel — from the aerial tricks to the video screens, graphics, costumes and general design to the overall flow of the show. The production last night went off without a hitch, and (most) of the audience was highly entertained. The show received the obligatory Broadway standing ovation…but here’s the thing: this was a highly educated audience composed of many frequent theater goers and professionals (I spoke with almost everyone around me, and none were “tourists” just taking in a show). And people were impressed and surprised. Granted, there will always be nay-sayers.

The cast is uniformly strong. Reeve Carney is a likable and rock-voiced lead as Peter Parker. Jennifer Domiano a straightforward MJ. Patrick Page has a blast as The Green Goblin, and T.V. Carpio a very assured Arachne (she served as an understudy  and is now permanently filling the role originally played by Natalie Mendoza who left the  production).

The music by Bono and The Edge is serviceable, energetic, and in a few instances excellent (“The Boy Falls From the Sky”, “Walk Away”). But no doubt about it, the book by Glen Berger and Julie Taymor ( who also directs) is weak, serving to tie together stage pictures and special effects. But oh what effects those are.

People fly. Sets rotate and flip. Drawings come to life. The sets rotate and move to place you above and under action sequences much like a comic book from frame to frame. Subways cross the stage in the background. Cars move on the streets below in aerial scenes. There is a general wonderment to the whole thing and a bit of “how did they do that” to keep even this jaded theater director amazed. Special kudos to Scene designer George Tsypin, Lighting designer Don Holder, Costume Designer Eiko Ishioka and Projection Designer Kyle Cooper. The most brilliant visual effect involves the “weaving” of a giant tapestry during the opening sequence with cast members on swings and some nifty stage artistry.

Act I serves as the general Spiderman tale that theatergoers will be familiar with. Act II gets a bit more mystical with Arachne creating mayhem and tempting Peter Parker. It’s fun for those who undertand their classical mythology. It’s going over the heads of anyone under the age of thirty who no longer have been forced to learn this in high school.

And there’s the problem. Act I is brilliant. Act II will appeal to many of us, while alienating others. It needs to be fixed. And apparently it is being fixed. Large portions of the Act II that I saw at preview 23 were different from what a good friend saw in Preview 16, including changes in storyline, flying sequences, and focus. I expect these to change over the coming month as they clean and polish. And that is why shows like this have previews. Spiderman doesn’t have the luxury of doing this out of town, away from NY audiences. The biggest cut that needs to be made is the bizarre “shoes” number performed by Arachne and her minions. Clearly meant to be a humorous number in Act II, it is instead appalling. From what I understand Julie Taymor has stated that this number is NOT being cut — which is a mistake.

But the production is not, I repeat, is not any type of flop. It has a marvelous cast and crew that are working very hard to create an unforgettable night of theater. The media and very vocal “All That Chat” forum members (most of whom have not seen the show) are going out of their way to cast ill-will on a work-in-progress that will eventually have the kinks worked out. If the show becomes a critical failure, word of mouth should keep this running for years. Ticket sales even during previews have kept steady at about a million dollars a week.

When “Carrie the musical” was in previews, I dragged my friends to see it over and over because every performance got stranger and stranger. You knew it was a flop. The same can not be said of Spiderman. I have nothing but good wishes for it’s success. I liked it warts and all…it will only get better over the coming work period. And attending a preview will let you see how a Broadway team pulls it all together. I wouldn’t hesitate to see the show again at a later date to see how it all works when finished.

For an interesting look at the current state of the tech previews, see this article:      http://www.playbill.com/news/article/146171-DIVA-TALK-Chatting-with-Spider-Man-Turn-Off-the-Darks-Jennifer-Damiano

%d bloggers like this: