Review: 'Spider-Man' still a tangled mess

The Spider-Man character is suspended in the air The Spider-Man character is suspended in the air during a scene from the musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." Photo Credit: AP

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REVIEW

It is time - I'm afraid past time - to turn the lights on "Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark."

The $65-million musical has been a magnet for headlines, punch lines and, most important, box-office lines since its first calamity-filled preview on Nov. 28. Even when director Julie Taymor and U2's Bono and The Edge kept asking for more time to make their ambitious experiment perfect before opening to professional reviews, most who admired their track record were predisposed to trust that, in fact, major improvements were still being made.

It is hard to believe, but as of Saturday night, virtually nothing has been fixed.

If the creators had not delayed their official opening for the fifth time, Monday would have finally been the day when critics were allowed to weigh in on the show that tens of thousands of full-fare customers (not to mention Glenn Beck and Joan Rivers) had been talking and tweeting about for months.

So in the spirit of enough's enough, we decided to break tradition, and offer an interim review of the show. We intend to review again March 15, the next promised opening date.

When I saw the show in December, the story was scattered, the music shockingly mediocre. But Taymor's stage pictures were amazing, and the flying was fun in a dumb, circus-y way. With the composers due back from their tour and safety issues more or less solved, it seemed likely that the show could be pulled together into an unusual, if not important, entertainment hybrid Taymor calls a "rock and roll circus drama."

Yet, the show I saw Saturday night was the same bloated, muddled, often beautiful mess it was before all this supposed "work." If anything, the piece feels more stretched and confused. The muddy sound system is better, and the new safety protocols are apparently working. A Spidey stunt double fumbled his landing Saturday, and the machines all stopped, leaving Green Goblin hanging belly-side down to joke with the audience below.

Taymor remains better at spinning a web than a coherent tale. More dispiriting is the music. It was hoped that Bono and The Edge would transform the old-fashioned conventional musical. Instead, perhaps intimidated by the challenge, they transformed their sound into stock Broadway schlock pop - sentimental wailing from the early Andrew Lloyd Webber playbook, winceable lyrics and the kind of thumpa-thumpa music that passes for suspense in action flicks. Most baffling of all, the song list is unchanged since December.

The first act is the best part, even if technical glitches at the performance I saw wiped out the exciting overhead fight between Spider-Man and Green Goblin. The plot follows much of the first Spider-Man movie, except that Taymor and co-writer Glen Berger add the Greek myth of Arachne (T.V. Carpio), a tragic siren with an Eartha Kitt vibrato who bites Peter Parker (Reeve Carney) to make him hers.

The goddess-versus-mortal triangle with girl-next-door Mary Jane (Jennifer Damiano) adds a little erotic tension. But Taymor overwhelms the charm of the cartoon story with ponderous imponderables about fate versus free will. Four annoying young people, the Geek Chorus, periodically halt everything to explain and argue about what's going on. Don't help us, please.

The second act is still a disaster, flabby with scenes of overproduced filler. There is a much-needed new ending, a modest scene in which Peter himself, not a double, flies around looking a bit scared. And there are many villains, but none has a personality. We really miss the vanquished Green Goblin/mad scientist, deliciously played by Patrick Page, the only showman in a generic cast.

Peter is torn between mortals and superheroes. The show is torn between human storytelling and cheap thrills. But the mortals are puny compared to the stunts. And, really, the title makes no sense at all.

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