Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Theater Review: Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark

Filed under: Performing Arts — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 01:07


About two weeks ago, I experienced what can only be described as the most exhilarating live theatrical performance of my life. Now, before I get into that, keep in mind that I have been a Broadway buff for a long time and have seen countless shows in my 33 years of life. Anyone who knows me knows that I hold the shows Titanic and Ragtime above all others. I can’t even begin to describe how much those two shows moved my spirit and touched my soul. So, to say that any show actually rises above (no pun intended) them is a serious claim. But, after experiencing Spider Man: Turn off The Dark at the FoxWoods Theater last week, I must politely ask Titanic and Ragtime to step aside. They will always live in my heart as tremendous pieces of theater; but Spider Man truly blew away my heart, soul and senses. It reminded me why I have such a fond love for amazing groundbreaking theater.

There have been plenty of negative things written about the show. And from what I hear, the show that ran in previews that was riddled with injuries and mishaps was just as confusing as it was risky.  But the ultimate product that was born from the creative minds of Julie Taymor and Creative Consultant Phillip William McKinley is of the highest quality I have ever seen on stage. U2’s Bono and The Edge have craftfully written a spectacular score that soars as high as the stuntmen playing Spidey just at the right moments, tugs at the heartstrings when the story of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson comes to its climax, and steals your very breath away as the menacing villains of the show battle-out the classic matchup of good vs. evil.

The story couldn’t be more solid. And while most are familiar with the story of Spider Man, there are some unique twists that are presented in the musical that set it apart from its comic book origins and overshadowing big-budget trilogy given to us from Hollywood. Peter Parker’s strife as the goofy adolescent is played wonderfully by Reeve Carney, who’s rock ‘n roll voice is perfectly suited for the role. Carney also effectively plays Spider Man in several scenes (most of the grounded ones that don’t require the skills of a well-trained stuntman). But it is perhaps the transition from Parker to Spidey that Carney most passionately executes in the power ballad “Rise Above” where he is joined by most of the cast and Arachne, a famed spider from Greek mythology, who we learn early in the show is guarding over Spider Man and responsible for his actualization that he is no longer simply a mortal being.


As for the main villain (yes, there are others who’s origins I wouldn’t spoil in this review), the Green Goblin fits the bill wonderfully! He is perfectly played by veteran Broadway actor Patrick Page. And while the story of Dr. Norman Osborn should be familiar to fans of the genre, there are some unique elements present in his metamorphosis here that strengthen and validate his hatred for Spider Man more than most other representations of his character.  And the structure for this is presented amazingly in the songs “DIY World” and “Pull The Trigger.” Beyond the brilliant acting, storyline, stunts, and songs of Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark, the sets are stars of the show all by themselves. From the tapestry literally woven with the introduction of Arachne’s story in the beginning of the show to the “towering” skyscrapers and digitally projected backdrops of Act II, the sets are astonishing! The talent that went behind the creation of this show from every aspect is mind-boggling and is unlike anything that has ever been staged.


Of course, that all comes at a great expense. The show has the highest budget of any show in history ($75 million) and has a weekly operating budget of $1 million! That is quite an expensive tab, particularly in an economy that can be described as challenging at best. Right now, the musical is bringing in a whopping $1.8 million/week.  But that is in the middle of tourist season and brings about some anxiety for the production. Like Titanic and Ragtime before it, a sky-high budget can doom a Broadway show. It is my sincere hope that Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark does not meet a similar fate as my other two favorite Broadway creations. If you are heading to NYC, THIS IS THE SHOW TO SEE! Forget anything else on Broadway–THIS IS THE BEST SHOW BY FAR! And when you get caught in Spider Man’s web (literally), you’ll know just what I’m talking about and will thank-me for recommending Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark!

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