“I’m a $65million circus tragedy,” sings the Green Goblin in Spider-Man - Turn off the Dark, before correcting himself to say, “It’s more like $75m.” The show has become just the latest in Broadway’s growing trend of making self-referential fun of itself, but in this case it has also written its own review in an attempt to pre-empt critical comment that is likely to say the same thing.
Patrick Page and Reeve Carney in Spider-Man - Turn off the Dark at Foxwoods Theatre, New York Photo: Jacob Cohlin
After the longest Broadway preview period in history, beginning in November last year, Spider-Man has finally officially opened more than six months later. It has also gained the dubious double distinction of being the most expensive show ever created and the most dangerous.
The endlessly-documented problems included a stuntman being put into intensive care when his harness was not attached and he plummeted off a platform in full view of the audience. Julie Taymor - the original director of the show - was herself subsequently thrown overboard, after critics, myself included, finally went in uninvited in February after the third postponement of the opening.
Ben Brantley of The New York Times declared then that it was “not only the most expensive musical ever to hit Broadway, it may also rank among the worst”. He advised that the production’s survival strategy should be to “play up regularly and resonantly the promise that things could go wrong. Because only when things go wrong in this production does it feel remotely right - if, by right, one means entertaining”.
Philip Wm McKinley, brought in as ‘creative consultant’ to replace Taymor, and new book writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa have not, however, heeded that advice. They’ve tightened and tidied it up, making the staging slicker and the narrative more coherent (they’ve removed the ‘geek chorus’ who previously told the story within the story). There’s no need for a warning that the show could break down at any moment, though there is an announcement asking audience members not to try to catch a ride on any of the performers as they fly above them.
They’ve also upped the anticipation a bit - it’s a full 50 minutes into the show before we even see any flying. But whether there are any other reasons why audiences will want to hitch a ride on this show, let alone any of its performers, has still not been satisfactorily answered. There’s plenty to engage the eye - not to mention the neck as you crane to watch the flying, when it finally happens, overhead and behind you - but nothing to engage the heart or, more egregiously given that this is a musical, the ear.
Bono and The Edge’s first Broadway score has their usual piercing guitar riffs, but little in the way of memorable melody. It might serve adequate cover to provide atmospheric background to the story if that was engaging enough. But as ripped from the pages of a cartoon strip, there’s little animating detail for the actors to flesh out, although in the circumstances, Patrick Page’s Green Goblin (continuing Broadway’s fixation with all things green, from Wicked’s Elphaba to Shrek) offers an interesting variation on a pantomime villain. Reeve Carney is likeable as geek Peter Parker and suitably athletic in his transformations into body-hugging Lycra as Spider-Man.
There is a gaping hole at the show’s centre, which is why do it at all? With Andrew Garfield soon to play him on film, Spider-Man’s few flying scenes don’t make it a convincing or necessary theatrical spectacle.