The Telefile
<I>Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark</I>: The 15 Most Egregiously Awful Things About The Broadway Production

As an avid Broadway theatergoer, I've seen more than my share of terrible productions that I'd like to forget, or wish that I'd walked out of. Dance of the Vampires was always my go-to for the worst thing I'd ever had the displeasure of sitting through ... until I recently saw Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. I'd read the heaps of stories about how awful it was, the troubles with the production, the multiple injuries, the firing of the director, etc. but I still didn't think that it could possibly be as bad as all that. I mean, in Dance, Michael Crawford belted "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and the townsfolk sang a song about garlic. And yet Spider-Man fell below my incredibly lowered expectations in completely surprising ways. Since the producers have hired a new creative team to work on the show (including scaling back on the villainess Arachne and axing the geek chorus) before its supposed June opening, I'm glad I got to witness Julie Taymor's version for the spiderfreude if nothing else. But is there a chance in hell that his show can be saved? The new team has its work cut out for it, judging by the below issues.

1) No "With great power comes great responsibility"
I may be a little bit of a geek girl here, but Uncle Ben never gets a chance to tell Peter one of the most famous lines in all of comic books. That's a crucial element to any Spider-Man anything, in my mind. Instead, on his deathbed, Ben tells Peter to "Rise above," and then Peter sings a song about... rising above. Then later there's a sort of paraphrased version of the famous line, but really, that's just one of the many signs that co-writer Julie Taymor didn't care at all about Spider-Man history.

2) There is a geek chorus who "wrote" this show
Speaking of the people who "wrote" this show, the entire setup is that there are three geeky kids who are trying to write some ultimate Spider-Man comic, and the annoying little sister of one of them comes over, tells them all about Greek goddess Arachne (who was apparently briefly referenced in an actual Spider-Man comic book, or so this show claims) and says that they should base their comic on that. Then occasionally the kids pop up and talk about what the story should be, which is basically an origin story. The kids come and go, sometimes sitting on the side of the stage watching "their adventure" unfold and sometimes disappearing for stretches. They eventually interact with Spider-Man, telling him what to do, before they vanish altogether so that the show ends without them celebrating that they completed their book. It's a good thing that the producers are reportedly cutting this chorus concept entirely, since I really wanted to smack that little girl who was so in love with Arachne (and I was only sitting about five feet from her, so it was a major act of restraint on my part).

3) They don't know what time period the show is set in
The high school kids all wear modern (if extremely ugly gray and yellow) outfits; at Norman Osborn's lab, they wear shiny silver space suits/lab coats that look like they came out of some cheesy '70s sci-fi movie; at the Daily Bugle offices, there's a secretarial pool that types on steno machines and dresses that look like they stepped off the set of Mad Men. And there are references to cell phones and the "world wide web" and global warming smattered throughout the show. And just when I was trying to figure out if the show took place in some sort of timeless zone, there was a city-wide event in the storyline proclaiming March 22, 2011 (though I'm guessing this changes each performance) as "Spider-Man Day."

4) The villains don't match at all
One of the big villains in the show is Arachne, a human being inside a giant spider costume that allows you to see her face. The other big villain is the Green Goblin, who's a human wearing a simple mask. Then there are a host of secondary villains like the Sinister Six, who are humans in costumes but with puppet heads. And then there are still more villains who are supposed to be old-school gangsters in black and white costumes with big blocky puppet heads (also done in grayscale). One of these villains has a giant inflatable lizard strapped to him that takes forever to blow up. These baddies don't really go together, the colors are all confusing and with so many villains, none of them get much significant play, aside from the two main ones.

5) There are still technical difficulties
The night before the performance I attended, the actress playing Arachne (T.V. Carpio) had been injured during a performance. Lest you think that this technical issue was a fluke, the night I saw the show, there was a problem during the high-flying battle between the Green Goblin and Spider-Man. Up until then, I was actually thinking that the wirework was rather impressive, cooler than anything I'd previously seen on Broadway. That was until I had to see Spider-Man hanging from a wire near the balcony while a stagehand had to use a long metal pole to fish him in. Yeah, that took away from the magic of the theater for me, big time. That and the fact that an announcer came on asking for our patience while they reset things and the Green Goblin basically tried his hand at entertaining the crowd by getting them to chant his name while the bored band members and the geek chorus played rock/paper/scissors. Finally, the Green Goblin was just lowered into the stage, Spider-Man was "flown" down to the stage and that was the rather anti-climactic end to that "epic" battle.

6) Sometimes there are cardboard cutouts doing the fighting, and sometimes there are inflatables
After the issues of the technical variety, the war between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin was resolved by giant cheap looking wooden, not moving cutouts of the adversaries who talk trash to each other via voiceover. There was also a small stuffed-looking Spider-Man at one point, who was about 18 inches tall who was slowly lifted up for some reason. And the worst of all was Bonesaw McGraw. Instead of a giant wrestler, or even a hulking guy in a huge costume, there was an oversized blow up doll. Yes. Peter Parker gets his spidey-sense and goes into the ring with a blow-up doll. They toss it around and it is the most laughably ridiculous thing I've ever seen in my entire life.

7) The songs are utterly forgettable
One of my personal pet peeves is songs that are just dialogue set to music, and there's a lot of that in this show. I know that some people like that sort of musical, but to me it makes the songs go in one ear and out the other. I'd far rather just have the people break out into song and give us something awesome and/or memorable. As it is, the only song that remotely sticks in my brain is the instrumental theme, and that's because they play it in all the commercials. And none of the songs sound anything like U2 at all, so why bother having Bono and The Edge write it in the first place?

8) There's an entire song and dance number about shoes
Also on the rumored chopping block is "Deeply Furious," an entire number about footwear sung by the villainess. Basically, Arachne decides that she's in love with Peter and is pissed that he wants Mary Jane and thinks that she could win him over if only she found the right pair of shoes to entice him. You see, in her delusional mind, the difference between her and Mary Jane is who has the better pair of Manolos. And then she and her Furies do a whole sequence where they sport high heels and dance around singing about how angry they are and how shoes will apparently make things better. I only wish I was making this up.

9) Arachne is just plain awful
Even before she started singing about shoes and her desire to seduce Peter and take him to some weird astral plane where she lives, I hated this character. First, we were treated to a long lesson on Greek mythology where we learn about her origins (which I swear was longer than the time we spent with Peter as he was bitten by a spider and learned that he had powers). And most of it was above my head (literally), which forced me to crane my neck to watch a woman weaving. Yeah, weaving. For like ten minutes. And she's a nice person until the middle of Act II when she decides that she's evil all of a sudden. It's a poorly written creation taken mostly from the imagination of Julie Taymor, who clearly knew nothing about Spider-Man while making this production. Have I mentioned that before?

10) Green Goblin is in another ridiculous musical all together
Don't get me wrong, Patrick Page is fantastic and does what he can with this role, but basically he's playing Lorne from Angel. He's dressed like him, he's green, he randomly sings lounge music and he sits at a piano to express his feelings about his nemesis in song. It's just over the top and campy and like something out of Rocky Horror. I honestly loved the musical that he's in, when he's on, but he doesn't have nearly enough stage time since his character gets offed and then revived like some kind of zombie. If I were in charge of rewriting this mess, making the show about him and Peter would be the first thing I'd do, and I'd just camp it the hell up. Oh, and I'd keep the scene where he transforms from Norman to the Goblin just as is because the "special effects" of his glowing skeleton are hysterically cheesy. It looks like a goofy haunted house, though I've seen haunted houses that are far more convincing.

11) They use U2 songs in the musical
You'd think that this would be a good thing, but it's not. At several points, the show pays homage to writers of its music and lyrics by playing snippets of their songs. Once while someone is driving around and another during a dance party (and I can't even fully address the fact that there is a dance party because, well, its not that long and it is the least of this show's issues). It's a cute inside joke and all, but when the music they've created specifically for this production sucks so bad, reaffirming how it pales in comparison to their famous stuff is just cruel.

12) Sometimes there's a villain fashion show for no reason
Because fight scenes are technically difficult to stage, probably more so when the villains are wearing giant puppets on their heads, the show made the unwise decision to have the Sinister Six come out in what seems to be a fashion show. There's a giant runway on the stage and some of the jumping gymnastic Spider-Man stunt doubles come across while each of the Six comes out from behind a wall, poses for a minute so we can take in their costume, walks down the runway and then disappears. It doesn't help that some of them are totally laughable, particularly Swarm, who's wearing a yellow and black costume from Party City that has little floating bumblebees with LED lights on them bouncing all around the place. I did at least appreciate the costume of Swiss Miss (another Taymor invention) who looked like some sort of Swiss Army knife version of a T2 -- if you can imagine that mess. All that was missing was Michael Kors and Heidi Klum sitting on the side, snarking away.

13) Lack of explanation about anything
I sure am glad that I had a working knowledge of Spider-Man before going in (though I think somehow that made me more angry) because everything here was just glossed over in order to cram in all that aforementioned Arachne crap. So we see J. Jonah Jameson hating Spider-Man, but it isn't fleshed out. The Green Goblin transforms because he wants to stop global warming and not sell out to the military -- I think -- which leads to an entire song and dance number by guys wearing giant khaki jodhpurs and women wearing teeny shorts and knee-high stockings. It's preposterous and seems to come out of absolutely nowhere. And then there's Arachne's big move, where she revives dead villains to stop Peter and somehow convinces him to break up with Mary Jane. I think. But how she does this, or if they are really reanimated, is never made clear. And how she moves from her plane of existence to ours is also a mystery. As is how the geek chorus can somehow talk to a character that only exists in their heads.

14) There is no Spider-Man theme music played I am sure it was due to a rights issue, but I wanted the classic Spider-Man cartoon theme song played at some point... at least in an instrumental version. I didn't get it. Instead, the big song about how awesome Spider-Man is, and how the town just loves him, was performed by a busker with dreadlocks and a plastic drum.

15) Archane and the other spiders have an ever-changing number of legs
If nothing else, can someone at least make sure that when they redo this disaster, they make the number of legs consistent for the spiders? It was really frustrating and baffling to me, especially considering how Taymor is known for her amazing costumes. Sometimes Arachne has six legs (including her two actual legs) and then these little pointy spider claws that are apparently counting as legs. But when she seduces Peter, she only has four legs (which are her human legs and arms covered in spandex) that all have those little claws on them. Her minions, who occasionally look like they are doing poses out of the Kama Sutra, have their human legs and arms covered in costuming and counting as part of their eight legs, and at other times their human legs aren't part of the total, but their little arms are. Eight is not a difficult number here, and all I ask for is a modicum of consistency.

It's really too bad this show is such a mess because the actor playing Peter (Reeve Carney) is actually pretty good and turns in a very athletic performance. He's running on treadmills like he's in a modern day Les Miz at some points, and all that flipping and bouncing requires some great core work. And when he's on stage with only the Green Goblin, it's actually something remotely watchable. But that's far too little of the show. And while the technical stunts are impressive, and all those back-flipping Spider-Man stunt doubles are great, it's hard to get into with the tech breaking so often. I know the producers have big changes planned, but it's hard to be optimistic about anything less than a complete and total rewrite of the book and music. But hey, good for them for cashing in on all of the bad buzz. Sometimes with bad PR comes great box office.

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