Sunday, April 14, 2024

“Spider Man” 1st Performance: High Flying, with Speed Bumps


Everyone may relax. The naysayers were quelled tonight. “Spider Man: Turn off the Dark,” a 60 million musical, had its first performance tonight after many delays. No one was harmed, many were charmed. There was a lot of inspired flying and other spectacular aerial acts.  Director Julie Taymor has pulled off a coup.

Not to say “Spider Man,” which played its show with stars like Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, Sony Pictures chief Michael Lynton, and CBS’s Lesley Stahl in the audience is perfect. Rather, in preview it’s more like a set of beautiful, ornate tiles that still lack grouting. Over the next few weeks, Taymor–who by sheer chance I wound up sitting next to last night–will fill in the spaces, smooth everything out, and add a much needed power packed ending to replace the show’s current soft landing.

But saying all that, “Spider Man” is still already quite an amazing achievement. It combines the best of Broadway musicals with a touch of Cirque du Soleil, the Big Apple Circus, and Taymor’s own identifiable genius with puppets and imagery. Add to that the music of U2, and several potential hit songs. They have not gone wrong, but gone very right.

Even if the show cost $60 million, no one will  complain that they don’t see it on the stage. The sets, costumes and lighting are overwhelmingly cool and original. The scenes are one show stopper after another, culminating in Spider Man–Peter Parker, rather–racing through New York singing “The Boy Falls From the Sky.” It’s the keynote song of the show, but there others that popped on this first night: “Rise Above,” “Picture This,” and “If the World Should End” in particular. Frankly, in U2’s repertoire of anthems, “Rise Above” has the potential to equal “One.”

The book of the is what still needs tightening and clarifying, but that will come in the next couple of weeks. The “Spider Man” story isn’t “Merchant of Venice,” after all, and it shouldn’t be hard. Right now, Peter Parker’s Aunt May and Uncle Ben could use a little fleshing out. And some of the segues last night weren’t in place. A few times–all minor–the show had to be stopped to do fixes. This is to be expected at a preview, especially the first. Some woman yelled out in the darkness, “I feel like a guinea pig” when the second act fix went on for five minutes. She was roundly booed.

As for the flying: it’s terrific. It’s acrobatic, athletic, and ballet like. Incorporated into sets that feel like giant pop up books come alive, and you have the once in a lifetime kind of experience that Taymor always promised.

Expect lines around the block today at the Foxwoods Theater. No one who comes to New York will want to admit to missing “Spider Man.”

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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