“Spider Man: Turn off the Dark” finally opened last night, and it is better. There’s no question that some needed editing, rearranging, and adding of a couple of key scenes has helped improve the show tremendously. However, it is still the work of Julie Taymor, more than ever, that carries the day. Pity then that the production wasn’t kind enough to offer Taymor a seat for opening night.
During the day, I am told, she was actually told not to come to the opening night.
At the last minute, a member of the crew came up with a pair of house seats. Taymor sat in Row T, center, and watched as her work of eight years was “reimagined.” Yikes. She toughed it out, though, and was the last person introduced on stage during the curtain call–after just about anyone who’d worked on the show excluding the ushers had been welcomed up there. Taymor is one class to do this, but she has the support of her cast.
Not on stage was choreographer Daniel Ezralow, much of whose creative work has been maimed by replacement Chase Brock. Brock has managed to make the show more banal than ever, replaced Ezralow’s inspired dances with a lot of blandness. Yikes II.
Taymor, meanwhile, did not attend the after party.
So what is “Spider Man” like now? Well, the good news is that Patrick Page is all over the show as the Green Goblin and Dr. Osbourne. He is wonderful. The talented T.V. Carpio is still Arachne, and she opens the show with Taymor’s stunning “weaving” set piece. From then on, Arachne is used for good instead of evil. Carpio, like the rest of this amazing cast, has simply adapted. Very defined and better than ever are Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano, as Peter Parker and Mary Jane. (They are apparently a couple off stage now, too, but why not? They’ve “lived together” for months like lab rats.) Each of them has grown in their roles, Carney, especially. After all, he was a rock singer when he came to “Spider Man.” Now he’s also an actor, acrobat, and aerialist.
One song has been added, called “Freak Like Me.” It sounds a little like Bono warmed over “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” The good songs from the original version–“Rise Above,” “Say it Now,” “Boy Falls from the Sky”–have been punched up by a better sound system. The show has dropped the dancing shoes number and significantly reduced the dancing storm troopers. Also, there used to a song bit with a refrain “set yourself on fire.” I never understood it. Now it’s gone. That’s really good.
A lot of dialogue has been added to clarify relationships. Peter and Mary Jane’s romance has been given a shot of humor. Peter no longer hates Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Mary Jane’s home life no longer seems like she’s being abused. The heaviness and grimness of the story has been lightened up. A lot. Cringe inducing moments, like when Aunt May chides Peter for not picking up her medicine, and then explains the word “facetious” to him, are gone.
So there are vast improvements. “Spider Man” is now a well built spectacle that should translate well into places like Las Vegas. It is still too long in the first act, and slow to build a head of steam. But it’s a visual treat, and plenty entertaining. I’ve seen it six times. That is all, folks. That is all.