Early in Act 2 of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the genetically altered villain Green Goblin (Patrick Page) sings, ”I’m a $65 million circus tragedy — actually, more like 75.” Yes, that’s a wink-wink nod to the show’s notorious crawl to opening night following months of delays, budget overruns, cast injuries, and the exit of original director and co-creator Julie Taymor. So how does the retooled Broadway production fare? It gets full marks for spectacle — Daniel Ezralow’s aerial choreography and George Tsypin’s sets deserve a curtain call all their own — but only partial credit as musical theater.
As great as Turn Off the Dark looks, you can’t hum the sets. Sadly, Bono and The Edge’s score is a mostly lackluster collection of forgettable tunes that play like U2 B-sides. The strongest tunes are the ballads, from ”Rise Above” to the duet ”If the World Should End” — though the latter sounds an awful lot like Green Day’s ”Wake Me Up When September Ends,” including the plucked-chord underline. But the lyrics are a consistently baffling, mumble-mouthed mush of pablum: ”If there’s no such thing as sorrow, there’s no such thing as time.” They sit there, advancing neither character nor story.
Admittedly, the plotting has been streamlined and sharpened since previews began (back sometime in the paleolithic era, I believe) — the so-called Geek Chorus is gone and spider goddess Arachne (T.V. Carpio) drops in only sporadically. But nothing flows. Scenes (and songs) still end abruptly, and the show lurches from anticlimax to anticlimax. When our hero (Reeve Carney) begins saving crime victims and we get our first spectacular glimpses of Spidey’s aerial derring-do, the sequence ends not with a big physical stunt but with an unexciting relic from Taymor’s old staging: a two-dimensional comic-book-style cut-out of Spidey’s hand reaching from the wings to ”grab” a two-dimensional baby ”falling” from the top of the stage. And so it goes throughout this ”reimagined” production. It may be an admirable work of revision, but it’s an unsatisfying meal, like one of mom’s end-of-the-week casseroles made of leftovers she couldn’t bear to toss.
For some audiences — the ones who’ve turned noisy, plot-thin cinematic eye candy like Transformers into blockbusters — none of these quibbles may matter. There are plenty of how’d-they-do-that moments. But even those primed for on-stage special effects may be disappointed by just how little flying there is in the show. (Most is in the second act.) And it’s worth noting that given the layout of the Foxwoods Theatre, the first dozen or so rows in the orchestra section are actually less than ideal seats — unless you don’t mind rubbernecking to see the action going on above and behind you.
You don’t have to crane your neck to admire many of the lead performances. As Peter Parker/Spidey, the adorkable newcomer Carney delivers rock ballads like ”Rise Above” with passion and a rocker’s growl that suggests it’s just rid itself of training wheels. Jennifer Damiano (last seen in Broadway’s Next to Normal) shines as girl next door Mary Jane. And Page, in full hammy baddie mode, gets big laughs for the lone non-Bono number, an update of the Rodgers and Hart classic ”I’ll Take Manhattan” delivered with malevolent glee. (The rest of the cast tends to blend together — except for poor Michael Mulheren, who stands out in the wrong ways as the unpleasantly gruff, ostentatiously unfunny Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson.)
A lot of talent and money have gone into Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. But with great promise (and an even greater budget) comes the great responsibility of delivering. Though it’s undeniably cool to see costumed heroes zip overhead, this Spidey just can’t get off the ground. C+
(Tickets: Ticketmaster.com or 877-250-2929)