With Greek Chorus Comes Greek Mythology
Pink angora. That, I thought to myself examining my now apparently foolish wardrobe choices of red, blue and black, is what I should have worn. As I turned to my Spider-Man collector boyfriend and asked him if we were at an Ed Wood tribute, I realized Eddie would have been proud. He would have shed a single delighted tear at the misery that was Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Even he could not have achieved the glorious folly that was set upon the stage.
I would like to stress that the actors and technicians did their level best to bail water from this Titanic. I felt for them, all of them. It was for them that I clapped, when I could muster the strength to do so. The various singing, acting and stunt work were not really to blame for this homicide of a childhood icon. No, that distinction belongs to Julie Taymor. If anything ever suffered from poor administrative decisions, it is SMTOTD. The production, fraught with complications ranging from broken limbs to the tragic death of original producer David Adams (who according to the 60 Minutes special died when he brought the contract to Bono and the Edge….apparently God did not want this musical to happen, is he a Spidey fan?), and the various budget issues ($65 million, anyone?) all should have indicated to someone to leave well enough alone. The bloated, simultaneously over and under produced effects, meandering and pointless script and bizarre theatrical choices, all put the pineapple on this ham.
With regard to the casting, our “hero” Peter was portrayed by Reeve Carney. Admittedly he is slightly Bieber-esque and a little too Twilight for my taste, but his talent is clear, and he was not the main issue. Jennifer Damiano as Mary Jane ‘MJ’ Watson and Patrick Page as Norman Osborn both played their parts well, considering the dialogue they were given. Dialogue, I should note, that contains audible ellipses. The following may not be exact quotes (as I may have drifted off momentarily while watching), but they come damn close to some of the exchanges, and well, you will get the idea:
“Wow, Peter, that was……”
“Yeah I know……it’s just that……”
“That was really ….something…..”
“Really… I mean…….really something.”
The pacing progressed like this, for about 4 hours. It was broken up by people flying around. Wait, wait you don’t want to hear about the nuts and bolts of musical theater ….you want to hear about SPIDER-MAN, right? The story you grew up with and turned to for comfort and escape when the world was bleak. The world where Peter Parker was just like us until that radioactive spider bite which transformed him into the sarcastic, web-slinging wise-cracker we all love.
Here goes…this is long, and even as such it is edited down considerably. Trust me, at least you weren’t there….
Our story opens, as most comic book stories do, with an origin story…a bit of exposition explaining the pathos, sacrifices, and psychological development of the main character. I bet you would assume that a musical about Spider-Man would open with Spider-Man’s origin story. Well…. when you make an assumption….you know the rest. Our fair play opens with the origin story of Arachne. Yes, the Greek Arachne and the story of her hubris. You know the one where Arachne thought she wove better than Athena (and did!), thereby incurring her wrath, and upon Athena’s destruction of Arachne’s superior weaving, Arachne took her own life. Athena, pitying Arachne, transformed her into the world’s first spider. Anyone vaguely familiar with Greek mythology has heard this story (and if you haven’t, it is in the Playbill, as an excerpt from Peter Parker’s oral report for school). If you failed to listen in grade school, or to read the Playbill, there is a Greek Chorus of hip teen types (I couldn’t figure out if they were Team Edward or Jacob) who guide the “plot” for ¾ of the show.
While the staging of the Arachne origin was artistically striking, one is left wondering why, with all of the Spider-Man related plot to attend to, is so much time being devoted to Greek mythology? Why indeed. That sinking feeling in your stomach is a valuable survival instinct. Do not ignore it. Oh, you can rationalize that this is a musical, and that maybe this is just an extra bit of fluff, an additional dimension to flesh out the concept of the archetypal spider totem, but you know, deep in your heart, that this isn’t true. You know that it will cause hurting later, kind-of like eating convenience store burritos. You know it’s coming.
Continue on, True Believers, to the second installment of Turn Off the Pain – the origin of this musical’s actual main character. Excelsior!