Blog Post Two: “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark” – Overall Impressions
View some more incredible footage of the show and some indepth behind the scenes interviews here.
Peter Parker, boy genius and high school student, gives a paper on mythology to his class. He tells the tale of Arachne (“The Myth of Arachne”), a mortal woman in ancient Greece whose pride and arrogance at her own skills at weaving caused her to challenge a goddess to a weaving contest. So sure her own skill, she wove blasphemy into her tapestry to taunt her competitor, and was punished for it. She was turned into a spider, the first spider, and was forced to live forever, in the darkness, hated and feared by human kind (“Behold and Wonder”).
After the paper, Peter accidentally reminds his teacher that there’s an essay due and the other students beat him up for it (“Bullying by Numbers”) Flash, the school jock, is especially annoyed with Peter for spending time with his crush Mary Jane Watson, the girl Flash wants to be dating.
Peter walks home alone (“No More”/”Anywhere But Here”), miserable at his lot in life. Unbeknownst to him, Mary Jane is equally miserable in her life.
The next day, the students of Midtown High are on a field trip to Oscorp. Emily and Norman Osbourne, the owners and lead scientists of Oscorp, discuss their regrets that they’ve never managed to find time for children, but are proud at their achievements in genetic manipulation. They also speak briefly of the financial troubles plaguing Oscorp, and the scientists who are quitting because he can’t afford to pay them.
When the students arrive, Norman takes special interest in Peter, and together they describe Oscorp’s goals – to create ways for human kind to splice their own genetic material with that of animals, and that way survive the natural disasters and wars they see looming on the horizon (“D.I.Y. World”).
Flash and the other bullies release the only female spider in Oscorp’s tank with their roughhousing, and it bites Peter (“Venom”) When the spider’s absence is discovered, the building is locked down. Peter flees, ill.
Peter wakes up several days later clinging to the ceiling. He discovers the spider has imbued him with super powers (“Bouncing off the Walls”). He decides to use these super powers to impress MJ, and enters a wrestling competition to win enough money to buy a car. As he’s at the competition, a thug kills his Uncle Ben and Peter, distraught, hunts down the thug and turns him over to the police.
Horrified by his own selfishness and plagued by thoughts of Uncle Ben, Peter hallucinate/dreams that night that he is speaking to Arachne. She tells him that she has chosen him to become her child, her Spider-Man, in order to do what she could never do – swallow her pride and use her gifts to help humanity (“Rise Above”).
Peter becomes Spiderman and begins to fight the criminal element. He and MJ graduate from high school and Peter becomes a photographer at the Daily Bugle, under J.J. Jamison, who hates Spiderman.
Meanwhile, Oscorp’s loss of the spider has sent the business into a financial tail spin. The lead scientists on the project have jumped ship. Norman Osborn is being pressured by Viper Worldwide to take a contract creating super Marines for them; they believe Spiderman is his work, and that one of his scientists stole the technology and created Spiderman for a rival. Osborn slowly becomes convinced of the same (“Pull the Trigger”).
Determined to recreate the Spider-man experiment, Osborn convinces Emily to help him manipulate himself. Reluctant, Emily agrees. At the same time, Peter confesses his love to MJ, but not his deepest secret (“Picture This”.) Osborn’s experiment backfires and Emily is killed. Overcome with grief, Osborn blames Spiderman and vows revenge.
It is now several months later. Osborn has mutated himself over and over again in an effort to have the abilities to gain his revenge and is now The Green Goblin. He has lost all of his humanity and is fuelled only by his rage and his desire to get Spiderman. He has tracked down and abducted the six lead scientists whom he believes betrayed them and mutates them into the Sinister Six – Swarm, The Lizard, Electro, Kraven the Hunter, Carnage, and Swiss Miss (the truly awful “A Freak Like Me Needs Company”.)
Meanwhile, MJ has become concerned that Peter has turned secretive and always seems to run off to go take photographs for work. She asks him to spend just one night with her, without running away, and Peter agrees (“If the World Should End”).
The Green Goblin and the Sinister Six attack New York City (“Sinestereo”).
Horrified by the carnage when he comes into the Bugle the next day, Peter goes out to try to stop the Goblin, cheered on by New Yorkers (“Spider-Man!”) Spider-man battles each of them but cannot seem to gain the upper hand. The Green Goblin calls the Sinister Six his children, and begins to refer to Spiderman as his First Born Son. J.J. picks up on this and soon is printing stories about how Spiderman and the Goblin are a team.
Now hated by the citizens and pursued by the police, Peter decides being Spiderman is too difficult and wants to quit. As he sleeps, Arachne tries to convince Peter that he’s making the wrong choice, (“Turn off the Dark”) and he fights her out of his dreams. Peter is then late to the premier of MJ’s theatre debut. MJ threatens to leave him if she doesn’t tell him whatever it is that he is keeping from her, and is keeping him from her (“Say It Now”/”I Just Can’t Walk Away”).In the end they stay together. Galvanized by his victory over Arachne and desperate to keep MJ, Peter quits being Spider-Man. He turns his suit over to J.J. (pretending he found it), who pins it up in his office as a trophy.
Peter takes MJ dancing and impulsively proposes to her, but the club’s TVs are hacked by the Green Goblin, who is broadcasting threats to Spider-Man’s loved ones all over NYC if Spider-man doesn’t show himself. Realizing that not being Spiderman doesn’t mean his loved ones will be protected, (“Rise Above, Reprise”) Peter finally accepts his fate as a Hero and knows it’s up to him to stop the Goblin (“See the Boy Fall From The Sky”).
He steals his suit back from J.J. The Goblin kidnaps MJ and tells Spiderman to meet him at the top of the Chrysler Building, where is his waiting and playing a slime-green baby grand piano (another ‘dear god, what were they thinking’ number called “First I’ll Take Manhattan”) and taunting the audience.
Spiderman arrives, and the Goblin reveals that he knows that Spiderman is Peter Parker, and has known since he learned that Peter had fled Oscorp ill that long ago day. That is why he calls Peter his Firstborn Son. He entices Peter to join him, to finally have a father and be part of a family, but Peter rejects the offer and they fight. Peter rescues MJ, and the Goblin plummets to his death off the side of the tower when, in a fit of pique, he tries to shove the piano onto the people below – Peter had webbed the piano to him in an effort to keep him from doing just that.
MJ reveals that she knew he was Peter Parker all along, New York City is saved, and J.J. Jamison hires Flash to be the new staff photographer, firing Parker because he never showed up once during the epic final battle between Spider-man and the Green Goblin (“A New Dawn”).
Believe it or not, when you breakdown the themes of the show, it’s actually quite clever. I think that Taymor is fantastic at high concept, and perennially bit rubbish at actuating her high-concept. She half develops something and then jumps to the next shiny thing.
That said, I don’t know if this was McKinley’s doing or Taymor’s, but framing the show as a Greek Tragedy-slash-comic book-film was genius and it really worked. The whole show was about hubris and the monomyth Hero’s Journey: Arachne’s, Peter Parker’s and Norman Osborne’s.
(I’m just going to review the principals or we’ll be here all night)
Peter Parker/Spiderman: Matthew Wilkas. He was the Understudy, and I was uncertain if this was good or not. Sometimes the understudy is a much better artist than the cast-because-they’re-a-name principal, but sometimes they’re the understudy because they’re just plain not as good. Sometimes I prefer to see the understudy because they’re better rested. Well, all I can say was I really, really liked Wilkas. He sings the very first line of the very first number in a spot and the minute he groaned out the first line I felt all lovely and shivery. This is definitely a man who could sing the phone book to me and I would melt. And he was consistently excellent for the whole show. I never saw him lag, or look down his nose at the camp, or anything.
Arachne: Katrina Lenk really had the “exotic Greek sound” down. I don’t know if that was her natural singing voice or an affectation that she was asked to put on, but her voice was hauntingly crystal and filled with all those beautiful trills and back-of-the-throat ululations you hear in tradition Greek music and it really, really worked. I have nothing but the highest praise for someone who can infuse their voice with such evocative emotion while strapped into a heavy silver bug-suit and suspended twenty feet off the stage. I never once felt she was wooden or constricted.
Mary Jane Watson: Rebecca Faulkenberry was totally phoning it in. I don’t know if it was because it was an off day, or because she was acting opposite Wilkas instead of the headliner Reeve Carney (if so, shame, Ms. Faulkenberry, that’s not very professional), but I just thought her whole performance was too small. Perhaps she’s spent too much time acting for the camera? I don’t know, but I wasn’t impressed. She has a decent voice, but I didn’t think her range and style suited the music she was given at all.
Norman Osborne/ Green Goblin: What a freaking professional Patrick Page is. He has been everything from Henery VIII to Lumiere, been the Grinch, Decius Brutus, Richard II and Iago, and he brought the gravitas and the whimsy of all of it to Osborne. I think he was very well suited to the role: serious, strong, fanatical and beautifully insane when he’s snapped. However, as I said above, I think the second act was a hot mess and this was mainly because they took all that lovely gravitas of Page’s and twisted it itno tongue-in-cheek disco. Camp only works if the participants take it deadly serious, and Page did his very best to take the dreck Taymour, Bono and The Edge shoveled on him in the second act. In the end though, his consummate silver-foxiness was ruined by the club anthem “A Freak Like Me (Needs Company)”, which is an utter shame. He was too incredible to waste that way.
In general, the music sounds like a U2 concept album. If you like how Bono and The Edge write music, you will like the musical, simple as that. Some of it is more rock, some of it is more standard musical theatre some of it is more radio-ballad, and there’s even a few club anthems, and it all generally works together and flowed fairly organically from one song to the other.
More importantly, the songs appear in the right places in the narrative.
In musicals, the songs are meant to come at moments of extreme emotion – the characters literally feel so much that they can no longer put into words their thoughts and must burst into song and dance. In the first act, every song was right where it should have been and the whole act just ran smoothly and wonderfully. In the second act there were too many numbers and some of the songs were the wrong kind of songs in the wrong places, which really stuck potholes into the pacing – especially as there were too many monologues and moments of rest between them.
The only thing I would have liked was a bit more clever lyrics. I adore Wicked because the words are so flibberty and filled with innuendo and doublespeak. The lyrics in Spider-man oscillate between really clever, with double meanings (especially when the same lyrics are sung in tandem or in reprise by different characters), and really freaking first-year high school.
For example, Peter and MJ are declaring their feelings for one another, singing “is this love?” while on another part of the stage Norman Osborne goads his wife Emily into strapping him into a machine to try to replicate the Spiderman phenomenon (which obviously goblinifies him), also singing “Is this love?” MJ isn’t sure that what she feels is what people call Love; Emily can’t believe that she’s doing what she’s doing, and if doing it means she loves Norman still.
All in all, nothing special, but very listen-able. I only wish the soundrack was in show order with all the songs and correct actors performing them.
Now this was damn cool. The sets looked like they were drawn, just like in comics. There were big, black graphic shadows, primary colours, and really clever visual tricks to make 3D objects look like 2D objects drawn to appear as if they were 3D objects. It was all very skewed-perspective, with extreme horizons and vanishing points. The best part was how it all moved and unfolded like origami and paper to create not only the settings but motion within the show. The set changes were a spectacle in and of themselves, and the whole theatre gasped in wonder when the Empire State Building flew in from the rafters upside down and unfolded itself into an incredible extreme, vertigo-inducing platform for the final show-down.
Like the sets, the costumes were bright and simple and coloured to look like comic book pictures. It took me a while to realize it, but what I mistook initially for tiger stripes on all the clothing was actually the folds and shadows in the fabric drawn in, like you would in a comic panel.
Once I figured out what it was supposed to be, it was really neat.
My only gripe was that the Green Goblin looked almost exactly like Scar, from the Lion King (except that he was slime green). Both had the lines of a tuxedo jacket with tails. I don’t know if this was deliberate or not.
And most importantly…
How Spidey Did His Spidey Stuff
Webs – these were really neat and come straight from Taymour’s obsession with Kabuki. They are called “Kabuki Throw Streamers” and they are essentially a dozen little crepe-paper rolls that unfurl and intertwine as you throw them into the air while still holding on to one end of them. They don’t cling and Spidey couldn’t pull on them, so they were more symbolic than useful, but it was a great visual, to see the paper settling over the baddies. I especially liked these because Spidey threw them all over the audience, too. I was picking webbing out of my hair and took a handful home as a souvenier.
Webslinging – the rigging used to move Spidey and the Green Goblin through the air was reverse engineered from the rigging that moves a film camera over a football field . The rig was attached around Spidey’s waist, and he flew on two wires at his hips. The wires were painted white, to look like webbing, and Spidey would grab first one and then the other as he swung to the opposite side, to mimic the webslinging we’re familiar with from the films, comics, and TV shows.
Clinging to walls – this was a combination of the fly rigging and just grabbing onto handholds built into the walls and sets. It was neat when the set was inverted or set at a super steep angle and he just crawled along the floor and the skewed horizon line made it appear as if he was climbing upwards towards the audience.