A disclaimer before I give you my opinion of Julie Taymor‘s much-hyped “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark”: I don’t, in any way shape or form, fancy myself a professional theater critic; rather, I speak as a devoted fan of Broadway. Growing up, I saw “A Chorus Line” six times, “Pacific Overtures” three times and “The Wiz” at least three times. I’ve sat through “Evita,” “Nine” and “Sweeney Todd.” (This was the 70s — tickets were a lot cheaper!) My only credential is that I love musicals.
So the good news about the new “Spider-Man” is that it’s inventive: The special effects are eye-popping, engaging and, most importantly, motivated by the story. It was a hoot to hear a room full of New York adults ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ as Spider-Man flew over the audience. The set never looks the same — and it shouldn’t, considering that it cost around $10 million to build. The show is at its most charming when it stays true to the sensibility of the comic books. That said, I did like the adult themes (i.e., self-definition, longing, morality) as well as the edginess in some of the extravagant costuming. (Spoiler alert: There’s a bit of a dominatrix Spider number.)
The score, written by U2’s Bono and Edge, will please the band’s fans because there is very little that distinguishes this music from other U2 songs. Bono and Edge write sweeping dramatic big-theme songs all the time. The Act II visuals also remind me quite a bit of the band’s “ZOO TV” tour.
The weak points are the length of the show and, IMHO, the Greek chorus (or rather the “Geek Chorus” of comic book fans), who prattle on about Spider-Man throughout the show. Four teenagers open the musical to introduce a new villain taken from mythology, and these first 10 to 15 minutes of the show lag, as it does when they return to guide us. When the show finally gets going with a big dance number and the acrobatics, it’s great fun. The rollicking rock-and-roll score, the fantasy of the story and the fantastic visuals are why people will want to see this show. Was it worth $65 million? Well, you can see where they spent the money. Will it break even? Given the line of people trying to score a ticket outside the theater, I think it has a chance.