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Spider-Man play is a ‘fascinating mess’

Turn Off the Dark.'

When I saw “Spider-Man: Turn Out The Dark” on Jan. 16, it was supposed to have already been finalized and officially out of preview performances. However, in the face of many delays, with opening night moved from Jan. 11 to Feb. 7 to March 15, I was stuck seeing the show in what was the beginning part of previews, which is the period of time that the creative team can make changes.


Most shows preview for about a month. “Spider-Man” will have previewed for nearly four months, from Nov. 28 to March 15. The show with the previous record for number of previews was “Nick and Nora,” an infamous flop that had 71 previews but closed after only nine regular performances. By the time it opens on March 15, “Spider-Man” will have logged more than 100 previews.


Publications such as The New York Times traditionally hold reviews until the official opening night of a production, but with the amount of time “Spider-Man” has previewed, some publications are already issuing reviews. With that, I emphasize that what follows is not meant to be seen as a review of the finished product, but instead my impressions of the show in its current state.


To be sure, the show, with its budget at$65 million and climbing, and all the tumult surrounding it, has become a big deal. All of this buzz and insanity might be justified if the show was even close to good. Unfortunately, in its unfinished shape, it’s a complete mess.


For starters, the music, by Bono and the Edge, is largely tuneless. One would think that two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees would be able to write more than one decent rock tune. It isn’t until the second-to-last number in the show, a ballad called “The Boy Falls From the Sky,” that the show comes alive musically.


However, the music isn’t even the show’s biggest problem. The show’s plot alternates between utterly boring and completely incoherent. Director Julie Taymor, along with collaborator Glen Berger, have come up with a ludicrous mismatch of the classic “Spider-Man” story and some elements she has either taken from “Spider-Man” comics or created herself.


To sum it up: Peter Parker, a hapless nerd in love with next-door neighbor Mary Jane Watson, is bitten by a genetically enhanced spider at the lab of crazed scientist Norman Osborn, and gains spider powers. These basics are hard to mess with, but it gets messy from thereon.


A “geek chorus” narrates the show and creates elements of the story as it goes along, but its dialogue is tedious and the chorus just drags down the show. The slew of villains in the show are even more problematic. The principal villain, the Green Goblin (Norman Osborn after an experiment in his lab gone terribly wrong), gives a jolt of much-needed manic energy to the show, but is still underdeveloped.


But what audiences really come to see is the much-ballyhooed special effects and flying. This aspect of the show is out of this world.


From the first moment of the show to the last, the tech elements are captivating. There is a battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin that takes place over the orchestra level of the theater. Characters made entrances and exits right next my seat in the third row of the balcony. It’s a shame that when the flying stops, the show goes back to being tedious and incoherent.


The performers generally do a great job despite the material. Reeve Carney, as Peter Parker, has a youthful vibe that combines well with his rocker voice, though his acting is often lacking. Jennifer Damiano, as Mary Jane, has a lovely voice, but is given such a boring character that she is easily forgotten.


The biggest problem with the show, both in the story and in the songs, is nothing is moved forward. Sure, a big dance number can look neat, and an actor flying above your head can be a thrill, but at the end of the show, if the characters aren’t developed, or if the script and the songs they sing aren’t appealing, the final product will be unsatisfying.


It seems as though Taymor’s ambitions as a director and as the creator of this show have gotten the better of her, and she focused too much on visuals and not enough on crafting a compelling story. The state in which it’s running is just a fascinating mess.

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