Music & Lyrics: Bono and The Edge
Book: Julie Taymor, Glen Berger, and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Starring: Reeve Carney (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Rebecca Faulkenberry (Mary Jane Watson), Patrick Page (Norman Osborn/Green Goblin)
The first thing you will think of when I mention this musical is likely all of the controversy surrounding it. From broken limbs, lawsuits, and cast changes, there hasn’t really been very much positive press for Spidey’s outing on Broadway. I recently went to New York and saw the musical for my 21st birthday, and I am pleased to report that there is a Broadway gem hidden behind all the red tape.
Turn Off The Dark tells the story of Peter Parker, whose world is turned upside down (literally) when he is bitten by a genetically modified spider at Oscorp, causing him to gain the proportionate strength, speed, and agility of a spider. However, life as a superhero isn’t easy, and when Peter finds himself up against the villainous Green Goblin and his Sinister Six, it’s a race against time to save the city, and the woman he loves.
For even those only slightly acquainted with the Spider-Man mythos, the storyline isn’t anything unexpected. There aren’t many twists or turns along the way, though this isn’t a problem – whilst the story is predictable, the way it is communicated to the audience is what makes it memorable. This story could only be told on stage, using all of the capacities of the theatre to their maximum in order to tell the story; from the cleverly implemented scene shifts, to the integration of comic book sequences into the proceedings using the enormous screens at the back of the stage, and of course the famous acrobatic fight sequences, Turn Off The Dark is unpredictable where it really matters – you may know what is coming next, but not from where it’s coming from.
There are a few story beats that do not fit properly, though this is a small problem – this is an adaptation of the source material, and expecting Turn Off The Dark to be a panel for panel recreation of the comic series, or the movie, is folly. However, would it have been such a problem to have made the evil corporation HYDRA, or even AIM, rather than Viper? How can you have Carnage, without having Venom? Most of these points aren’t things that casual fans will pick up on, but they may cause more seasoned fans to pause.
The stunts are likely what most audience members are anticipating when watching the show, and they do not disappoint. Pulled off flawlessly (as you’d hope, given the problems that have been rife with them), Spider-Man swings across the stage and out across the audience in order to further the storyline, culminating in an airborne fight scene with the Green Goblin at the conclusion of the musical. These stunts are never implemented for the sake of it; each is placed where it feels natural in the storyline, and this means that they have the most impact. There are just enough to satisfy your appetite, but not so many that the audience can feel bored of them. They are also well staged, meaning that wherever you sit in the audience, be it the stalls or the upper circle, you will never miss a thing.
Of course, none of this would flow properly without well cast actors and actresses. Whilst I did not have the pleasure of seeing Reeve Carney in the starring role as Peter Parker, his alternate, Matthew James Thomas, was well cast, getting the mannerisms of Peter Parker down very well, as well as changing them appropriately once he receives his powers and becomes more confident. Rebecca Faulkenberry is a powerful Mary Jane, giving a stellar performance without succumbing to the damsel in distress role she could easily have fallen into. Most of the supporting cast are also well chosen, from Aunt May to Flash Thompson, and the ensemble cannot be faulted.
However, two shining stars stole the show whenever they were on stage. First, Michael Mulheren is a superb J. Jonah Jameson, equal parts gruff and passionate about newspapers. He has obviously studied earlier incarnations of the character (especially J.K Simmons in the Spider-Man films), and this carries across into his portrayal. And then, Patrick Page’s Norman Osborn/Green Goblin is absolutely phenomenal – he has a stage presence that that Green Goblin should command, and performs every line with gusto and great humour. There is a particular scene late in the show that brought my entire party to tears, and this was all due to Page’s execution of the lines.
In fact, the only possible criticism I could have about this musical is that the music is perhaps the weakest part of the show. Whereas other, more traditional shows such as Wicked or Phantom of the Opera have songs that you will be singing for weeks afterwards, most of those in Turn Off The Dark are fairly forgettable, without much substance to them. There are standouts that I did find myself humming in the shower later in the week, such as ‘Rise Above and Bouncing Off The Walls’, but most are either too short, such as Venom, or quite difficult to understand without a CD version to listen to, like DIY World. I think the main flaw comes from the vast difference between the songs – there is no common musical theme, with each song being its own entity, from the rocky ‘Boy Falls From The Sky’ to the more traditional musical number like ‘If The World Should End’, and this gives the score inconsistency.
I think what Turn Off The Dark does best however, is that it gets right to the heart of Peter Parker as a character. Both in the acting and the song lyrics, you can truly feel how Peter feels, and how he much he wants to help everyone he can, even at the cost of his own happiness, hard as it may be. Through songs like Rise Above and Say It Now, it’s clear to the audience how Peter feels, and why he acts the way he acts. Spider-Man has always been the character Marvel point to when they are asked about relatable heroes, and this is evident throughout this show, and that is truly one of its triumphs.
Spider-Man certainly isn’t the first person you’d think of when contemplating creating a Broadway musical, but he takes the stage and makes it his own with Turn Off The Dark. Though the score can be a little disappointing, this is easily remedied since you will likely have so much to look at on the stage and around the theatre. Backed by a squad of well chosen actors and actresses, Turn Off The Dark offers something that some theatre shows forget – fun. The action comes from all directions, and you will never be certain of what to expect next. Whilst the story is nothing groundbreaking, it is delivered in a manner that will keep you guessing, laughing, and gasping in glee as it progresses. Turn Off The Dark? More like Bring Down The House.
GO Rating: 4/5