'Spider-Man' web isn't quite so sticky

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REVIEW

So, is it better? Yes, the story makes sense now and, so far, no one has fallen down.

But is it better than junk-food theater in a jumbo package? No. After six postponements, five injuries, three replacements of the creative staff and a 3 1/2-week hiatus for a makeover -- not to mention more than 180 previews and, minimum, $70 million in production costs -- "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" is now a splashy, often sluggish pop-schlock Cirque du Spider for children with moderate attention spans and unusually tolerant fanboys.

The flying is definitely the main event -- especially if you thrill at the idea that grown men in spandex just might fall on your head. Christopher Tierney, amazingly recovered from his horrible accident, makes the handful of brief aerial flights (especially the battle with the Green Goblin) seem like air dancing. Those scenes -- plus some gorgeous stage images by designer George Tsypin and deposed director Julie Taymor -- make the dull characters seem even duller.

On the plus side, the annoying Geek Chorus has been excised, transitions strengthened, scenes rearranged and Arachne (T.V. Carpio) has been downsized from a distracting, threatening goddess to Peter Parker's guardian angel-bug.

The pretentiousness is gone. But so is any grand -- perhaps, loony -- ambition that first inflamed director Taymor and composers Bono and The Edge with promises of a breakthrough union of art, Broadway and genuine rock and roll.

With Taymor and her team out (but duly credited), new book writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, choreographer Chase Brock and "creative consultant" Philip Wm. McKinley have made a dumbed-down spectacle that sets the bar low and reaches it. Given the size and appeal of the "Spider-Man" franchise, such limitations may not affect this box-office phenomenon. Worse shows have profitably run forever.

The best change is the expansion of the only witty element in the self-serious show, the mad scientist / Green Goblin who used to die at the end of the first act. Patrick Page, the only real showman in a generic cast, has the bucket basso and hambone self-delight of a comic tragedian.

The new team has strengthened the emotional ties between Peter/Spidey (the earnest but blandish Reeve Carney) and Mary Jane (ditto Jennifer Damiano), as well as Peter's feelings for Uncle Ben and Aunt May. They all care more about each other now, which is good, but not enough to make us care about them.

Bono and The Edge have tweaked their first Broadway score, integrating bits of themes to make the songs feel more like parts of the same show. Although most of the new music serves as connective tissue, the Green Goblin gets a much-needed new production number, "A Freak Like Me," with dancing zombie chorus.

Any hope that these rock stars would shake up the old-fashioned musical, alas, was dashed months ago. Instead of transforming Broadway, they turned their sound into middle-of-the-road Broadway ersatz pop, sentimental wailing that sounds like early Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Although the second act is much improved, the narrative now feels as if it has been stitched together from high-tech remnants, with the cumulative tension stalled by three drippy, energy-sapping ballads.

The printed program for the show used to have what felt like a creepily personal note, clearly by Taymor, explaining how Arachne was punished for the arrogance called hubris. The Spidey message has always been "with great power comes great responsibility." The new mantra, espoused often by the Goblin, is "mutate or die." In other words, the show has lots less philosophy now -- and lots more silly string.

 

WHAT "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark"

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WHERE Foxwoods Theatre, 213 W. 42nd St.

INFO $67.50-$140; 877-250-2929; spidermanonbroadway.com

BOTTOM LINE Junk-food theater in a jumbo package

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