Los Angeles Times Theater Critic Charles McNulty weighs in on “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” the Julie Taymor-directed, U2’s Bono and the Edge-scored, big-budgeted Broadway rock musical that’s had more than its share of sticky situations:
Reeve Carney, center, portrays Peter Parker in a scene from the musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," in New York. (The O and M Co.)Link
Reeve Carney, star of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." (Getty Images)Link
The Green Goblin (Patrick Page) duels with Spider-Man (Reeve Carney) high atop the Chrysler Building. (8 Legged Production)Link
A scene from the musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" in New York. (The O and M Co.)Link
Well, it turns out there is a valid reason the producers of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” have been keeping critics at bay. Julie Taymor’s $65-million, accident-prone production, featuring an erratic score by U2’s Bono and The Edge, is a teetering colossus that can’t find its bearings as a circus spectacle or as a rock musical.
The endlessly postponed official opening was last moved from Feb. 7 to March 15, but the battle over healthcare reform has a better shot at being resolved before the manifold problems of this frenetic Broadway jumble get fixed.
In the meantime, “Spider-Man” has been making lucrative lemonade out of all the lemons the media has thrown an embarrassing spotlight on. (The show, previewing since late November at the Foxwoods Theatre, has already beaten “Wicked” in the weekly box office tallies.) Not even a nuclear bomb detonation, as the satiric newspaper the Onion joked, can stop this juggernaut, which has survived financial crises, a spate of cast member injuries and enough bad press to sink a presidential candidate.
But the time has come to assess the work, not the hullabaloo surrounding it. So much emphasis has been placed on the technological hurdles, the notion that “Spider-Man” is trying things that have never been attempted before in a Broadway house. What sinks the show, however, has nothing to do with glitches in the special effects. To revise a handy little political catch phrase, “It’s the storytelling, stupid.” And on that front, the failure rests squarely on Taymor’s run-amok direction.
This is, after all, her vision, and it’s a vision that has been indulged with too many resources, artistic and financial. The production, lacking the clarity that’s born out of tough choices, adds when it should subtract, accelerates when it should slow down. Taymor’s inventive staging of “The Lion King” was a victory for the craft and commerce of theater alike. But the investors of “Spider-Man” have inadvertently bankrolled an artistic form of megalomania.
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– Charles McNulty
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