The Rescue of ‘Spider-Man’ ***
By Isa Goldberg
The beauty of comic strip characters is that they transcend their idiosyncratic traits and explode into the realm of the universal. In “Spider-Man,” the boy Mary Jane loves, Peter Parker, is more than a rock star: he’s a superhero who jumps skyscrapers, defends good against evil, and carries his girl on his arm as they walk into the horizon. In the new musical that finally opened on Broadway it is precisely the sentimentality of that image that draws a dollop of tears. In its emotional pull, the show, revised by comic book writer and playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, is true to its source.
In fact, “Spider-Man 2.0,” as it’s been dubbed, downsizes the sheer cacophony of Julie Taymor’s vision. The story line here is simple, direct, and clean, like a comic strip. Where Taymor’s production opened with a crowd of bodies craning toward the sky while sirens blared and rock guitars bleated, “Spider-Man 2.0” opens with Peter Parker giving a report to his English class on the myth of Arachne. The opening here, could be right out of “Archie,” playing seamlessly from the stream of comic book consciousness onto the stage.
Looking back at Taymor’s production, “Spider-Man I.0,” was a wild parody, along the lines of Roy Lichtenstein’s comic strip imagery. And like Lichtenstein, Taymor’s visuals were hard edged and cutting, inflating the popular cartoon iconography so that the original meaning was intentionally ambiguous – good appeared in disguise, evil had no boundaries, and love was always threatened. Granted, as musical theater, “Spider-Man I.0” was a disaster.
At the same time, Taymor has granted the visual inspiration to “Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark,” and herein lies the production’s most compelling aspects. Flying Spider-Men and aerial battles are an aspect of that, but so are the use of life-size puppets and cartoon characters such as the Sinister Six. Decked out in their full regalia, the parade of supervillains is an amusing spectacle. And they are totally germane to the melodrama, which pits good against evil. More witty are the black and white costumed gangsters, carrying cardboard machine guns and soft muslin bags with well-drawn dollar signs all over them. As in commedia dell’arte, these characters are recognizable stereotypes; here they represent the banality of evil – the common everyday variety reported in the daily news.
The work of designers George Tsypin (scenic design), Howard Werner (projections), Donald Holder (lighting) and Eiko Ishioka (costumes) all contribute to the visual spectacle. Where “Spider-Man” falls flat – not enough has changed between versions ‘I.0’ and ‘2.0’ – is in the score by Bono and The Edge. Their music here is pointless; their songs are just not memorable. The choreography (Daniel Ezralow and Chase Brock), on the other hand, now reduced to the athleticism of its youthful chorus, has the whoosh whaam vigor of a comic book action story.
All in all, this is a more integrated stage adaptation of the classic Marvel comic “Spider-Man” series. Reeve Carney (Peter Parker/Spider-Man) is a magnetic romantic lead, and Jennifer Damiano’s Mary Jane captures the paradox of a teenager who is sophisticated but innocent. As the Green Goblin, Patrick Page is flagrantly entertaining. “Spider-Man” reimaged has its moments, and in the end romance has its way.
“Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark” is at the Foxwoods Theatre at 213 West 42nd St. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. For tickets call 877-250-2929, visit Ticketmaster.com or go to the box office.