(Originally published June, 2011)
No amount of words can describe how mind-numbingly stupid the entire concept of a musical based on the comic book called “Spider-man” is… But I’m going to give it a try. Just read that sentence again. Yes. It’s exactly as bad as it sounds. I should preface everything you’re about to read with something of a declaration of interest.
You see, as a kid, I was a fat little nerd who liked to read comics. Not just any comics — Spider-man comics. I learned to draw superheroes by copying Bendis and a similar ilk of comic artists. It’s safe to say, I’m a die-hard Spider-man fan. I once asked a lady to sew me a Spider-man costume. The number plates on my car say “Spidey.”
You get the picture. I need help. Now, with that in mind, you can imagine my reaction when walking down the street in New York in 2009, I stumbled across a poster of the up-coming Spider-man Musical!
With music by Bono!
and The Edge!
The very concept stank so badly I had to leave Manhattan, but the excited curiosity of how bad it could be had me anxiously following its progress for the ensuing years.
Fast forward two years. It’s 2011. I’m walking down the street in New York. A billboard for “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark” smacks my eyes like I’ve stepped on a rake. I get into a cab. The TVs on the back of the seats are screaming at me with the announcement that this week, Broadway is ‘expecting the man-birth of the most expensive musical in the history of musicals, since humans have been making musicals. Ever!’
After a three week hiatus where the director, Julie Taymore, was fired and the script was re-written and the show re-rehearsed — we now have the longest ever preview period for a show in the history of musicals since humans made musicals. A prolonged labour, if you will, before this behemoth baby was to be pushed forth into the world.
It should also be known that this labour period also led to more humans being almost killed while rehearsing or performing in a musical. Ever. So already: Winning.
That understood, I figured it was safe to say if I saw the preview, it wasn’t going to be all that different to the opening product. Especially since it opened in three days.
With the show at a cost of $77 million dollars by the time I sat down in my seat on June 11th, I wasn’t surprised that I had to pay my daily NY spending allowance on my single preview ticket. The Australian dollar was strong this week, so I wasn’t too perturbed. I went along to the Foxwoods Theatre, at 213 W.42nd street and handed over my ticket. I took my seat next to a fat, balding man in his mid-forties holding a Playbill and a big packet of M&M’s. I call him “Future Jason.”
I was front and centre of the aptly named “Flying Circle” on level one. I noticed a platform in front of me. My imagination started clanking away. Maybe it was for Spider-man to come and swing on to. Maybe it was to catch any falling bits of lighting rig. Maybe it was just a big ugly plank of wood in my way of the show.
All will be revealed!
LIGHTS DOWN! …And so it begins.
The title “Turn off the Dark” was how I felt within approximately 90 seconds of viewing this disasterpiece. I wanted them to put the lights back on so I could crawl over the man next to me and power walk out of the theatre for fear of choking on my own head. For that is what viewing the opening number induced.
Like something out of a tired old stage show in Las Vegas, an inexplicably new character called Arachné, based on an old Greco-Roman myth, was wailing incoherently whilst hanging from two bedsheets tied to the roof. That was right before six mechanical spider-legs sprang from behind her. I decided to ignore the common knowledge that spiders have eight legs and try to enjoy the show, sans arachnid pedantry.
As the spectacle continued, we were introduced to our hero; Peter Parker. A young nerd in a classroom, learning about science- and putting his hand up to answer every question in s.. song?
The opening number for Parker is not only completely tacky, but sounds like it was written by a 15 year old drama student on dexamphetamine. The show descended from there.
Somewhere between the inflatable balloon that was meant to represent Bonesaw McGraw (RIP Randy Savage) and the inexplicable new Sinister Six villains they’d decided to invent- including a man made entirely out of bees- I lost my fucking mind.
The story made no sense, it ignored the very heart of the story of a boy growing up, finding out who he is and learning a lesson about responsibility. There was no journey- and not once was Uncle Ben involved anywhere saying “With great power, comes great responsibility.” One might argue, a keystone to the entire Spider-man story. No? Okay.
They had no Harry Osborne, and for some reason Norman Osborne (jarringly played quite well by Pat Page) now has a wife, Emily, who dies. So there you go. The songs drag on in a monotonous drone, interspersed with ACTUAL U2 SONGS as some kind of hilarious in-joke devoid of actual humour or nuance- more just blatant lazy injection of existing U2 songs where original ones they were paid to write should have been.
It’s as if the writers took a cursory squint at the Wikipedia entry for Spider-Man whilst on an opium bender and proceeded to write the show in crayon. Never have I seen such a musical abortion as this on a stage. I predict I never will. Even if they make a “Blossom Meets Sabrina The Teenage Witch” musical.
The show appears to have been written for males, from age 8 to 24, who like noises and lights and don’t altogether care if they make any coherent sense. I’m not sure that’s your typical broadway audience. That kind of sucks, when you’re tasked with selling out the show every single night for five years straight just to break even.
YES. Spider-man does swing around the theatre on cables, ropes and pulleys, landing on that ugly wooden plank in front of me. YES there is a spectacular Cirque du Soleil-style battle that goes for 41 seconds at the end of the show, and YES, there is an upside-down kiss (during the curtain call) for the four girls in the audience.
Those things are worth clapping your hands for. But when the school holidays finish, and the curious car-crash viewers of the show have all seen the anti-circus of a show (featuring 8 different actors playing Spider-man, plus Peter Parker) there won’t be much need for this turkey to stick around.
The show finished. They turned off the dark and opened the doors. I looked across at Future Jason sitting next to me, covered in M&Ms and shook my head.
‘That was an experience’ he said.
‘No’ I said.
‘That.. was an ordeal.’