Julie Taymor is an extremely literal-minded director. That much is in evidence if you’ve seen the film Across the Universe, a Taymor-directed 2006 release in which she visually interpreted, word-for-word, a cache of The Beatles’ most popular songs in order to tell the most simple-minded love story imaginable.
Across the Universe, while visually stunning, was nevertheless mostly a critical and commercial bomb – a celebration of style over substance that failed to resonate with audiences despite its indelible tie to the Greatest Band Ever. Because, boring. It’s not all that surprising then that Taymor’s latest Broadway production, the now infamous Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark has become the most polarizing show currently gracing the Great White Way. Aside from the innumerable injuries to its actors, which have helped keep the show in previews for longer than any other stage production in history, Turn off the Dark is heavily flawed in ways that have earned it the distinction of being the Worst Reviewed Broadway Musical of All Time. How does that even happen?
This is an interesting case of negative publicity being good for business, as the show continues to sell out at each performance and gross millions of dollars weekly. Personally, the more bad press I read on the show, and the more that sketch comedy shows like Saturday Night Live parodied its pitfalls, the more I knew I just had to see it, which I finally did last night. And you know what? I absolutely loved it.
Spider-Man: Turn of the Dark is a show with its visual “Oh My God! I Can’t Believe They Just Did That!” factor so far off the charts, unless you are in a coma, you almost can help but be entertained. When people tell you that this show has stuff in it that’s never been done before and that you won’t see anywhere else, they aren’t exaggerating. As far as the sets (which look like they’ve been lifted from films like Inception or Dark City), costumes (Grace Jones would be jealous), visual effects (Spider-Man goes to Hell, or something like that) and stunts (assloads of Flying! Flying!), it’s by far the best stage production I’ve ever seen in my life. I mean, drugs are completely unnecessary, because you will not even believe some of the jaw-dropping, perfectly amazing things you’ll see. I was so wildly entertained, I didn’t even (hardly) mind the really bad parts, which are described in the next paragraph.
When you buy your tickets to see Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark (which you will, because you just have to see it), don’t expect much of a plot: the plotline is either confounding or non-existent. If you’ve seen the first Spider Man movie starring Toby McGuire, or if you know anything about Spider Man’s “creation story” at all, that’s all you need to know.
Also be aware that there are some genuinely mind-numbingly boring parts in the first act. You will know when they are happening, because you will be all like “I wish they would fly around the theater again, because that was awesome!” Also, while the actor’s singing voices are all really top-shelf, despite its musical compositions being credited to U2’s Bono and The Edge, Turn off the Dark is perhaps unique for being a musical with zero memorable songs. I swear, the only hook that stayed in my head at all is the reoccurring, three chord electric guitar riff that indicates when Spider Man is about to kick someone’s ass; you know, it’s the bit used in every radio and TV advertisement for the play. Now, that’s an ear worm if there ever was one. It’s in my head right now, as a matter of fact. Spider Man!
Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, starring Reeve Carney, is currently in previews at the Foxwoods Theater on 42nd Street just West of 7th Avenue (steps from all the major subway lines). It is set to officially open on June 14th, but who knows if that will actually happen. I suggest you try to get tickets right now, before they close it down for a re-tool some time in April. I got tickets on Gold Star for $90 each including fees. It was totally worth it.