Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has taken a long and winding road to the top, but for once it’s been worth it. The Bono and Edge-penned musical may be the most spectacular show ever seen on Broadway (and that’s really saying something). CAHIR O’DOHERTY is surprised to find himself dazzled and amazed by the daring stunts and the mind-blowing artistry of this incomparable show.
Look, I admit it -- I arrived expecting to scoff.
Settling into my ringside seat at the Foxwoods Theatre on Saturday night for a preview of the new musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, I was gleefully reminded by my buddies that this was the venue that in 2007 had staged The Pirate Queen, the budget-busting bomb produced by Riverdance creators Moya Doherty and John McColgan that the Broadway community had despised.
There’s been a lot of talk, to paraphrase Bono, about Spider-Man on Broadway. Let’s start with its $72 million budget -- that’s a lot of bucks to bury in a bottomless pit. With a price tag that astronomical it’s inevitable the show has already been picked over and over again by the press, and that much of what was written was utterly devastating.
In The New York Times in February, chief theater critic Ben Brantley called the show a “national joke.” In fact, he wrote, “This show is not only the most expensive musical ever to hit Broadway, but it may also rank among the worst.”
Cracks that pointedly heartless prove that while Broadway may be filled with gay directors, designers, actors, singers, dancers and promoters one thing never changes -- it ain’t for sissies.
Forget the Marines. The test of a real man is can he survive an opening night on Broadway?
Note, by the way, that Brantley called Spider-Man a “show” and not a “musical.” Perhaps he’s a Broadway purist, or perhaps he was simply at a loss for words to describe what Spider-Man actually is -- a genre-busting, live action extravaganza, a musical theater rock concert film, a boundary pushing collage of unruly elements that’s unlike anything that Broadway has ever staged or witnessed before.
And this might be the moment to say -- it’s also really good!
It’s practically an article of faith in the New York theater community now to say that Spider-Man sucks -- perhaps especially if you have yet to see it.
But when you stop worrying about whether it’s a concert, a musical or a movie then you can actually start enjoying it for what it is -- good, wholesome, swash-buckling fun.
It is also, occasionally, jaw-droppingly beautiful, thanks to the soaring music of one half of U2 and the dazzling theatrical magic created by the show’s original director Julie Taymor, who was dumped from the original version of the musical in March when she wouldn’t sign off on the drastic changes that the producers, and Bono and The Edge, felt the show desperately needed to save face.
Brantley might want to consider who exactly will have the last laugh when this “national joke” finally opens this week. Months of rewrites have made the storyline clear and simple, and the show steps out now with just the right amount of visual thrills and with a much better dramatic payoff. There’s no question it’s finally ready for opening night, which took place with a star-studded red carpet on Tuesday, June 14.
At the center of it all is young Reeve Carney, 28, a preternaturally beautiful young Irish American lead actor who plays Peter Parker and his alter-ego Spider-Man with so much conviction you start to root for him from the first scene.
Carney can channel Bono’s vocal stylings as though he has been doing it all his life (and apparently he has). He can alternate between playing the nerd with the crush on Mary Jane, the dutiful son, the gifted scientist and the Broadway belter with an ease that suggests he’ll be leading man material for the rest of his life.
In particular, Carney has found a way to convey the grandeur and sweep of Bono and the Edge’s often epic music in a way that feels organic rather than contrived. U2 haven’t written ballads this affecting in years, possibly because they were busy being U2 the rock gods and not U2 the songwriters?
Maybe the creative freedom from the business of being the biggest rock band in the world freed Bono and Edge up because, it must be said, this is the best stuff they’ve done in years.