A couple of months ago, I was anxiously waiting my turn in the dentist’s office when a jaunty young man of seven or eight sauntered over and confided to me his secret. “I’m Spider-Man,” he said. “Wow,” I answered, “What kind of things can you do?” “Well,” he thoughtfully replied, “I can climb walls and” he leaned in a little closer, “ I can sling webs.” With that, he opened up his hand and revealed a carefully folded piece of tinfoil. I was completely charmed; I believed him, and I’ll never forget him.
This sense of make believe and wonder is what’s missing from the current Broadway production of Spider-Man—Turn Off The Dark. There’s no magic, no delight, no willing suspension of disbelief. As much as I wanted to boost this underdog, I just can’t. It’s worse than bad; it’s tedious.
Having said this, it must be noted that the audience loved it. The buzz before the first act was palpable, there were cheers with every stunt, and a roar of approval when Peter Parker (Reeve Carney) and Mary Jane Watson (Jennifer Damiano) finally kissed.
I could only join in the fun when Patrick Page was on stage. I first became a fan when I covered the 2008 Roundabout Theatre Company production of A Man For All Seasons. I expected to be blown away by the mighty Frank Langella, but was also completely captivated by Page’s performance as Henry VIII. Going toe to toe with the master was no small feat, but Page more than held his ground.
Here, he brings the only real spark to the evening as fanatical scientist Norman Osborn. Dressed up in silver lame, he looks like a cross between Albert Finney and John Larroquette. He’s out to change the world with his creepy human-to-animal experiments, and damn the cost.
The sheer evil joy he projects as the changeling Green Goblin energizes the house. A sly in-joke here, a maniacal laugh there, and the best lines of the evening elevate an otherwise dreary event. Page invokes Wolfman Jack, The Big Bopper, and a sense that this show could have been so much better if only Page’s comic style had been incorporated throughout the production.
Jennifer Damiano is an actress to track. I predict that she’ll be a big star. Damiano has a unique quality, reminiscent of the young Michelle Pfeiffer. She projects a heartbreaking wounded bird vulnerability, with an unexpected streak of tough girl. I wanted to see more of her Mary Jane Watson; as written, it’s a pretty one dimensional part. But Damiano proves here that her success in Next to Normal was just the beginning of what will be an impressive career.
Reeve Carney does a fine job with the surprisingly unmemorable songs by Bono and The Edge. And while we’re mentioning the music, will someone please explain to me why no one has objected to the ear-shattering decibel rate of so many Broadway musicals? I employed my always handy ear plugs, and still came away with a splitting headache. Let’s not kid around anymore. Such a high volume of sound isn’t entertainment, it’s torture. Many people of my generation have suffered hearing loss from our rock concert days; think Bill Clinton. I hate to believe we’re passing on this legacy to our children and grandchildren. Broadway producers, turn down the amps; we all know it’s unhealthy to listen to anything that loud.
Technically, it’s obvious that several versions of Spiderman are seen whizzing over the audience. The ropes are apparent, and at one point, Carney snaps on a harness that looks like an inner tube. So, not even the attempt at illusion we saw in Peter Pan and Mary Poppins. And after endless productions of Cirque du Soleil, we’ve experienced so many aerial gags and so much tumbling, we’re numb. Yes, we know, Vegas is where the big money lives; Broadway is just a pit stop on the road to Casino Theater. To add insult to injury, I hated the “webbing” that was dumped on the audience; it looked and felt like shredded toilet paper.
There’s a great line in the show, “All the weirdoes in the world are here in New York City tonight.” I wish it had been true. With so many different theatrical styles in evidence on the boards, a little more weird might have held it all together.
As it was, another line was the one that filled me with nostalgia. “There are giant lizards running amok on Wall Street.” Indeed, there on stage, was a big green—dare I say it?—raptor like creature. It was then I realized I must, in all honesty, write the words I never thought would appear on these pages. Spider-Man made me miss Enron the Musical. Holding my ears and feeling the hours slowly ticking by, I was bored to the point where I yearned for a show that was so bad it was entertaining.
Spider-Man–Turn Off The Dark
2134 West 42nd Street
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, and International Association of Theatre Critics. www.michalljeffers.com