Saturday, June 4, 2011

Re-Review: Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark

Several months ago, the Middle Room had an opportunity to view Julie Taymor's infamous musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Our review was less than glowing, and as a result the play was closed for three weeks so it could be completely overhauled with a new writer and director.

Despite reservations, we felt obligated to view the updated performance.

The new play no longer feels like Taymor's, nor does it feel like something new. Rather, it feels like an adaptation of the original, recreated by a civilization a thousand years in the future. That they seem to have access to the original soundtrack and cast is not necessarily a good thing.

The entire play feels muted, despite the deafening music and blinding lights. Almost every aspect was improved, but the experience is no better than before.

Elements and characters have been fixed across the board: Aunt May is now a likable character, as is Mary Jane. And the plot is at least 85% more existent than in the prior version. Connections exist between one scene and the next, and most characters now have something that could at least cynically be referred to as motivation - a huge step up.

But nothing feels right. They gutted the original production and strung the innards over the stage. For better or for worse (mainly the latter), the original felt like it was made with a vision. A skewed, twisted vision, certainly, but at least a sense of how the design fit the overall production.

But while the set and props remain, the production's been overhauled. The costumes and backdrops no longer fit the new show; nothing feels right. Everything was built around Taymor's spider-goddess, Arachne, who's been reduced to a minor character. While the original version failed miserably in its execution, the concept of a patron mythological being who turns into Spider-Man's nemesis when he tries to abandon his totem symbol had potential. As bad as some of those scenes were - and they got extremely bad - they weren't boring.

The reworked version, however, mostly comes off as bland, particularly in the tedious second act. Sure, that act used to be a train wreck, but at least train wrecks are exciting.

With Arachne reduced to giving pep talks, the play instead focuses on Green Goblin. His backstory is now fleshed out, which could have paid off if not for the lingering elements from the play's predecessor. While the character's interactions between musical numbers are improved, they don't exactly mesh with the songs, which were clearly written to serve an entirely different arc.

The Sinister Six, no doubt in an attempt at streamlining, have been "re-imagined" as creations of the Goblin's. More specifically, they're products of his continued genetic experiments splicing human and animal DNA.

Keep in mind, Carnage is among those supposed experiments. What, exactly, Carnage is supposed to have been spliced with is never made clear. Nor is Swiss Miss (one of Taymor's creations) explained. Perhaps the Green Goblin spliced her DNA with that of a food processor.

Also baffling is the reworked death of Uncle Ben. Fans were angry at his unconventional death in the last version, when he was hit by Flash Thompson's stolen car after Peter watched the theft occur. Likely in an attempt to placate fans, they've reverted to something ostensibly closer to the original. Ostensibly.

After arguing with his uncle, Peter competes in a wrestling match, which he easily wins. He's immediately paid the promised money, and walks home feeling pleased with himself. On his way home, his uncle is shot by a car jacker.

Absent is any connection between Peter and Ben's murderer. Without it, Peter is ultimately innocent - the crime really isn't his fault. The play ignores this, of course, and he descends into a pit of angst until Arachne sings a song about how he can wear the red blood of the innocent and the blue of the night's grief (or something).

The origin of the costume is another carryover from Taymor's version. Perhaps she failed to notice that Spider-man's colors also mirror the American flag, as well as Superman's, who Parker was largely a parody of when first created.

Or maybe they just figured that an angst-ridden song about red blood and blue sorrow would play better to a generation obsessed with Twilight.

At any rate, the new version of Turn Off the Dark is probably a better play, but there's far less reason to see it. The original incarnation was a glorious failure: this is just the conventional sort.

They set out to fix Turn Off the Dark, and after a complicated operation at the vet's office, the play has indeed been fixed. As such, it will no longer hump your leg, which is certainly a plus. However, now it just sits limply in the corner, a musical devoid of the manic energy that once infused it.


Unemployed Peacemaker said...
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Unemployed Peacemaker said...

After seeing "Spider-man Turn Off The Dark" four times so far, I enjoyed the show very much because of it's storyline, music, aerial innovation, audience participation, and the entire cast's acting abilities are amazing. As I said back in February 2011, come and see the show yourself, and you be the judge-because most of the people who will begin reviewing this show tend to focus on the negative, and not the wonderful technical and dramatic techniques. Professionally, Super Laundry Bag

Erin Snyder said...

Wait... is that Bono?