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Julie Taymor's SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK 'preview' not a disaster - needs a little tweaking? Amazing Aerials!

Hey folks, Harry here and Darth Dooku is so lucky. I really wish I could have been there to check this out. I know the whole geek world has been sharpening their knives to take this down... but frankly, I'm really quite fond of the various elements that were being put together. U2, Julie Taymor and frankly SPIDER-MAN. Reading this review and learning that the story is told from the perspective of New York City youths telling stories they've heard about Spider-Man... well that's awesome. I love those types of stories, because seriously... If SPIDER-MAN were real, kids would spend hours looking out the window hoping to catch a glimpse. And they'd live to hear the various stories. For me, this also explains the style of the show, as it represents the fevered imagination of a child. But... apparently the story is fairly weak at this point, but the reviewer seems to be hopeful. Let's see what happens with the show between these previews and the formal presentation of the FINISHED affair... but this doesn't at all sound like the catastrophe that folks were breaking out the cutlery for. And that's very good news. Here's the review...

Hey Harry, I saw a preview of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark today, and decided to write a small review (with spoilers). If you use this, call me DarthDooku. Thanks! Today was the first day of previews for Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, the new broadway show by Julie Taymor (The Lion King) with music by U2's Bono and The Edge. I was happy to get tickets to see the first show, but I didn't quite realize it was a preview. Apparently, this means that the show is basically putting on a dress rehearsal, and using the audience to help see how to fine tweak and change things for the actual show. SO this show actually opens in January, so they do have about six weeks to fix things. And yes, there are quite a few things that need fixing, but a lot of good things as well. The story basically follows the typical story of high schooler Peter Parker getting his spider powers, saving the day from the Green Goblin, and romancing Mary Jane. A few extra details were added this time around, however. First off, the story is told by these four kids, who seem to be creating the plot in their minds. As they come up with various elements of the story, we see these acted out on stage. Also, they incorporate an element of greek mythology, a lady called Arachne, throughout the story. More villans are also there, and they form the Sinister Six: Carnage, Kraven, Swarm, Electro, Lizard, and a new creation called Swiss Miss. The story was by far the weakest element of the production. There was not much explanation between scenes, and I felt like to truly understand it, you needed to have seen the first two Spider-Man films. For instance, Peter likes Mary Jane, but she's with some other guy in high school. Later on, they're together and dating, and we don't really see the bridging scenes there. Likewise, we have Peter lose his powers later, and then gain them when the world needs spider-man again. This was explained decently, but I felt like I understood it more because of the movie. They need to work on having a more coherent plot. The music was totally not catchy, at least not to me. I thought all the songs were from Bono and The Edge. However, on the playbill song list, only one song has that little asterisk, with a note on the bottom saying music and lyrics by Bono and The Edge. Makes it kind of dubious that the other songs are theirs, which may explain why they don't really sound too hot. The acting was decent, with the best work being Norman Osborne, played by Patrick Page. They also made good use of these long, vertical screens on stage, which displayed spider webs, newspaper headlines, close-ups on the Green Goblin, and more. It really helped the mood of the various scenes of the show. The best part, by far, were the aerial stunts. Spidey swang all across the audience, and up to the balcony. During the fights with Green Goblin, they were both swinging, and fighting, and it's something I haven't seen in a broadway show before. I feel like they hit this part just right. Arachne also flies through the audience. However, one drawback was that I was in a balcony seat, so for one scene she flew over the audience, but had to be prepped from the balcony. And she has a really big costume. So while watching the events on stage, we see four crew set up a platform and bring Arachne on stage, which was rather distracting. But I suppose there's no other way to avoid this. Basically, I think this show has potential. It needs to work on the plot. And I understand that this was a preview, and the first one no less, but there were long breaks during the show. I believe these should be fixed by the end, and once the are, this can be a good show. The plot seriously needs the most work, and they should consider cutting down on the Arachne scenes, as they often were drawn out and unnecessary. Also, those kids telling the story later interacted with the characters in the story, which doesn't quite make sense. Once these things are worked out, this should could be stellar, just for the aerial work alone.

Harry here again - take a look at the 60 MINUTES piece on the show! I'm curious.

Another review came in, this one from a fella I know. Here ya go...

Hey Harry. I was at the first preview last night and wrote this review for my friends, but I thought you might find it interesting, or do with it what you will. You can call me JonnyTheater "The Show That Fell From The Sky…" "Spiderman- Turn off the Dark' First public preview, November 128, 2010 at The Foxwoods Theater, New York So, I should preface this by saying I had purchased tix for the show November 18th, and the show was postponed, due to tech problems and the show not being ready (actually I heard they had not even gotten through a full run through of the show a few days before, so the decided to cancel the first 2 weeks of previews). There were also several injuries reported including broken wrists and ankles by stuntmen/dancers due to the flying stunts involved with the show. The stuff they were attempting to do with this show were new for Broadway, and they were going to have to adjust to what was possible to do 8 shows a week. So, they cancelled the first two weeks and pushed back the opening date to January. By this time, I was intrigued enough to want to see what the hell this show was gonna be… What was $65 million dollars going to look like onstage? The most expensive show ever mounted on Broadway… Would it be horrible? Or would it be brilliant? People said the same thing about "The Lion King"(also directed by Julie Taymor) and look how that turned out. I had to see for myself. There was also the very real possibility that a 'Spiderman" would land in my lap or crash into the orchestra or fly off into the balcony, and I didn't wanna miss that. So, that is what brought me to the Foxwoods Theater on November 28th at 6:30 for the very first public performance of "Spiderman-Turn off the Dark". Also joining me in the audience were several producers, theater people, actors (including Matthew Broderick and Sara Jessica Parker and Sean Hayes) and one of the writers of the book, Glen Berger, who looked like he was about to have a stroke. He was right to be worried. I had no idea what I was in for, but I knew it would be memorable. I was eavesdropping on an older gentleman who was sitting directly in front of me, and he was telling a companion how they had only gotten approval from the safety inspectors on Friday night, having requested changes Wednesday night. "He described it as the show being 'balanced on the head of a pin"… Hmmm… The show began with Michael Cohl, one of the Producers, thanking us for being there, saying he was "Hellishly excited", and explaining that they may need to call a hold once or twice during the show for tech reasons, which was understandable. Apparently, they also cancelled the invited dress rehearsal the night before, so this was really the first performance in front of an audience. The show began with 4 young teenagers debating on a Spiderman origin story. They being to discuss the legend of the girl who was "Arachne" the most gifted of weavers who bragged of her gifts and angered the Goddess Athena, who challenged her to a dual at the loom, with the song ('Behold and Wonder"). Arachne won, but Athena destroyed her work and caused Arachne to hang herself. Athena took pity on her and transformed her into the worlds first spider, who would "live and weave forever". I loved this sequence, a gorgeous and stunning segment that featured several women hanging on long strips of fabric, swinging back and forth, and actually creating a woven pattern across the entire stage. I hoped this was going to be a unique and visually stunning evening of theater. It was, but not always in a good way. We then immediately fast forwarded to present day, and we meet Peter Parker in class, where it is apparent he is not well liked by any of his classmates, who take pleasure in taunting him in a pantomimed fight sequence "Bullying by numbers". We are also introduced to Mary Jane, his next door neighbor, and the unique set design that evoked a pop-up book folding out and in on itself, and we learn their respective home lives are unhappy("No More"). "I can't live like this no more" they sing over and over… and over… We then meet Norman Osborn and his wife in his lab, which the students from the high school are visiting. The lab set is very stylized and visually interesting, going for a comic book graphic novel look and the students sing ("DIY World") with Norman… The song seemed only to serve as a reason to mention DNA and and the idea that eventually we could possibly live "To a thousand years"…Then Peter gets bitten by an escaped spider, blah blah, blah… Ok… I am not loving the music at all at this point… It is all monotone and does not move the story along, and as much as I like Bono and the Edge, I am beginning to wonder if they should have stuck to playing with U2, and avoided composing Musical Theater music… The street kids, who have been watching all of this unfolding from far stage left begin to argue why and how Peter was chosen to be bitten by the spider, and that "Anyone could have been Spiderman", leading into "Bouncing off the walls', a number that has Peter literally doing just that, with him walking and flying around the set in a cartoony way. This was the first time they called a hold on the show for a tech problem. The show literally stopped for about 3 minutes while they set up a change that had Peter beating up his enemies in a stylized cartoon style with "Pow", "Bam" signs popping up as he was beating them down. Some of the choreography was clever and unique, doing slow-mo flips and lifts with the assistance of other dancers doing complicated lifts and falls while other dancers held then up or they laid on top or over them. Peter then enters a wrestling match, and adopts his first use of disguise, fighting Bonesaw McGraw and winning 1000 bucks, wrestling a giant blow-up Bonesaw, in a kind of funny scene. He arrives home to find Uncle Ben has been hit by a car, while someone was stealing it. He realizes he is powerless to save his Uncle, but we don't get that great scene between them, losing an emotional connection that Peter has with his Aunt and Uncle. Distraught, Peter then sings what was the most beautiful song from the show "Rise Above" : "And you said "Rise above, Open your eyes above, and you said rise above", I cant… I cant…" and is then joined by Arachne who descends from above to sing along with him: "And every heart that bleeds will color your world red And the sorrow in the night will be the blue you cannot shed And your strength with be a vision beyond visibility And the gift you have before you will give you new eyes to see, That you can rise above, swing through the skies above, And you shall rise above yourself…" And you will rise above open your eyes above and you can rise above yourself... in what was meant to be a touching emotional moment is killed when they call for another hold of the show due to the second tech problem. Fuck. What was, for me, an emotional highpoint, was completely destroyed by another problem. The person on the God mike then asks us to "Give it up for Natalie Mendoza" the one playing Arachne, who is hanging 20 feet off the stage singing the song. After an almost 5 minute break, they come back to complete the song, not from the beginning, but where they left off. Arachne gives Peter his costume, then we see an elaborate sequence where Spiderman flies all over the stage and beyond, across and over the audience to the second balcony, swinging over the orchestra, and flying across the stage. fighting bad guys and being Spiderman. It was cool to see the high tech setup they had and there were several Spiderman's doing the stunts. I can understand how people got hurt. It seems very dangerous and risky, and I hope I will not hear about any accidents happening, because it seems likely that something may go wrong. There were so many wires and so many crew trying to keep them out of the way. I don't know how they will do it 8 times a week. At that point, I checked out of the show. We meet the newspaper editor and the reporters, who adopt the fast talking 1940's style dialogue, matching nothing that has come before it, as they start to ask "Who is Spiderman?" Then Norman Osborn becomes Green Goblin in a transformation sequence that kills his wife, and he becomes comic relief for the show, of which there seems to be about 3 different versions going on. I think this cartoon approach would have worked if there was some connection to reality, like there was in the movies. It would have been like if they had dropped Jim Carrey's "The Riddler" into the mix. It just didn't work, it didn't match the tone that was set by the music and what had come before. They called for a third hold on the show, and then a few minutes went by and then the act was over, and people filed out into the lobby wondering what the hell we just saw. I could go on, but why? I don't know what else to say. It was pretty to look at, the sets were unique and gorgeous. The actors did their jobs and are doing what they can with what they have to work with. But a terrible script by Julie Taymor and Glen Berger, and an awful convoluted story that makes Peter Parker a boring and wooden character, kills what could have been a unique and interesting theatrical experience. It is a case of the theatrics and technical glitz getting in the way, even obliterating whatever story about a conflicted young man who feels a sense of responsibility to those he loves and his fellow man behind. I was underwhelmed and disappointed. Too many villains, when just one would have been sufficient. Arachne was an interesting enough villain, and she provided conflict and interest, and her songs began to take a "Bjork" like feel in the second act. Oh, they called a 4th hold on the show during the second half, prompting one woman to loudly state "I didn't pay $150 bucks a ticket to watch a dress rehearsal". Some of us applauded. The show, as it is now, ran over 3 hours and much could be cut and pared down, starting with the teenagers that opened the show. It added nothing, and the device of having them essentially narrate the show disappeared halfway through the second act, never to return. The ending of both the first and second acts seemed like an afterthought. I heard from someone involved with the show that they were rewriting the ending that day. The whole book needs to be rethought. I wish they had let the simple moments shine more. indeed, the best moments were the ones that were not about flying and theatrics, but the human emotional moments that made you feel what Peter felt. When he sings "The Boy Falls From The Sky" alone, with virtually nothing onstage with him, it is one of the most touching moments. The show needs so much more of that if they expect to have any kind of future. I don't mean to pee all over what they presented onstage last night, but how could no one have seen what direction it was going and helped it back to where it needed to be? They have a month and a half of previews to fix things, and I hope they are able to make it work. $65 million dollars is a lot of money, and I cannot understand how it could have gotten here. I can see where the money went. I just don't know why they bothered.

I'm madly curious and hopeful that I'll have an opportunity to check this out. I'm fascinated.

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