In writing “Rise Above,” the signature song of the whole show, Bono appears to have written a new national anthem for post-Celtic Tiger Ireland.
“When the ones who run the firehouse are the ones who start the fire/
And the lawless make the laws and every preacher is a liar/
When the ones who damn the innocent/
Are on the nightly news and front page…”
Listening to this song for the first time on Saturday night, I knew instantly it was completely outstanding because it touched every sore spot in the modern Irish psyche. It made the hair on the back of your neck stand up and it brought the entire house to its feet for an ovation at the end.
A searingly powerful song, “Rise Above” is also one of the most emotionally affecting things that Bono has ever written. And Carney, who got his start as a singer in a band with his siblings in a band also called Carney, really sings like he means it:
“And you said rise above, open your eyes of love/
And you said rise above? But I can’t, I can’t.”
Bringing these new and still unknown songs to the public Carney, who has been playing instruments since before he could talk, is a natural salesman.
There are two things that you just can’t fake on Broadway -- musicality and heart -- and thanks to his abundance of both Carney carries the whole show on his fairly slender shoulders.
And whenever proceedings threaten to become a little too sweet there’s the Edge’s sonic wall of electric guitar to remind you that Irish rock and rollers wrote this score, and they’ll be having none of that lovey dovey stuff (well, all right, maybe just a little -- but that’s it, right).
And while you’re sure to enjoy (most) of the music, remember that important as it is, it’s just one part of this extraordinary show.
Along the way there are battles that bring us to the 7 train into Queens, the 59th Street Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, and even the Chrysler Building. Believe me, you can expect to be knocked out by the staggering scale of the thing.
And as it dashed from set piece to spectacular set piece, a question I started asking myself is who came up with the idea for this ridiculously ambitious show in the first place? Who thought, “Hey, I know, what Broadway really needs is comic superheroes hanging from spider’s webs and having complex aerial battles over the audiences’ heads?”
Who, in other words, was mad enough to conceive of it?
Records show it evolved from conversations between Taymor, Bono, Edge and others, but since the show has already achieved legendary status for all the wrong reasons the permutations of that effort may never be fully told. Stories become legends on Broadway faster than anywhere else on Earth, after all.
So what can you expect when you take a deep breath and pay the astronomical ticket prices? If you imagine, as I did, that the spider’s webs on view will be of the ropey variety we associate with Peter Pan you will have your mind blown when you see what actually happens.
Spider-Man and the Green Goblin will have complex midair battles right over your head. This Spider-Man shoots webs, dances on the walls and even ceilings, he flies about the theater and the main stage, he suspends himself from the Brooklyn Bridge and the Chrysler Building, and at other times he floats gently through the air in dream sequences so gorgeous they’ll melt your heart.
Watching the musical on Saturday night, it was hard to imagine how this massive show will play six days a week, month after month without some kind of incident since the timing, athleticism and technical know how all seem to turn on a dime.
Just one false move – even the tiniest one – and the whole thing could come crashing, as some of the actors found to their horror during the show’s initial previews starting last November, when set malfunctions and injuries to the actors turned Spider-Man into a running national joke.
The technical wizardry of the show brings the audience to a level of attention that they might not otherwise pay to a production of this kind, and the marvelous thing is that your attention is rewarded.
When you hear Edge’s soaring guitar I defy you to remain unmoved. Music in the hands of this Irish pair becomes something rich and strange, far greater than the sum of its parts, as any U2 fan has known for decades. Taymor makes magic, but so too does Ireland’s greatest rock group.
Don’t think there aren’t some false notes in a show this ambitious. The Scissor Sisters disco beat of the act two opening number “A Freak Like Me” is one of the least successful songs in the show, for my money, but it’s given one of the biggest billings. Longtime fans know that U2 have always had a bit of a problem with cool and with disco in particular, which the Pet Shop Boys once noticed and lampooned them mercilessly for.