IT seems so long ago. Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died. Sonia Sotomayor was being considered for the Supreme Court. "The Hangover" was the
FEAR OF FLYING Cast members at a recent "Spider-Man" curtain call include, from right, Patrick Page, Jennifer Damiano, Reeve Carney and T.V. Carpio.
surprise movie hit of the summer. And it was announced that the incredible Alan Cumming would star as the monster villain, the Green Goblin, in a Broadway musical called "Spider-Man." With music by Bono and the Edge of U2!
Ah, yes, it was June 2009. And my friend Bill, who had moved back to New York from Southern California, laid claim to be my guest whenever I received press tickets to the show. Little did we know what a long wait that would be. And that Alan Cumming would be long gone.
A full two years later, last Friday night, Bill and I finally saw "Spider-Man," now "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" at the Foxwoods Theater. In between, the show had become the best-known musical in the world, for the worst of reasons. They kept extending the preview period (normally it's a few weeks). Cast members started getting hurt -- badly -- when doing the production's tricky flying scenes. The cost hit $65 million (or is it $70 million by now?).
Finally, in March, the producers fired Julie Taymor, the director, whose ambitious vision had been the show's engine. This was after many influential theater critics had given up waiting for an official opening night and gone ahead and reviewed the show as it was. Their collective verdict: A disaster.
So "Spider-Man" shut down for a few weeks and did some reworking, and the show finally opened last Tuesday. Anticlimactically.
And so there Bill and I were, in Row H. The show started. Some mean guys were bullying scrawny loser Peter Parker (Reeve Carney) at school. Peter was bitten by a radioactive spider on a class field trip. He morphed into a superhero, won the love of Mary Jane (Jennifer Damiano, who long ago replaced Evan Rachel Wood, originally announced for the role) and fought the Green Goblin (played by Patrick Page).
The song Carney and Damiano performed on the Tonys is, sadly, the show's best number. It's pleasant, but that's about it. God knows we're all in favor of safety, but the wires and cables now are so big and bulky that there's no thrill when any character flies. The aerial fight between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin was kind of entertaining. And it was a cute surprise when the audience was showered with spider-web-stuff. But every time I applauded, it was because the song was over, not because it had thrilled me in any way.
Nobody is terrible. Everybody is at least competent. God knows it's no worse than "Baby, It's You!" or "The People in the Picture," but at least those shows had stars who transcended their material.
I hope, for the sake of the people involved in "Spider-Man," that the show runs a long time. But the only way to be impressed by this production is never to have seen a professional piece of musical theater before. Maybe the world is full of enough people in that category, but the sad thing is that if "Spider-Man" is their first show, it may also be their last, because they'll never know how magical theater can be.
"Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," by Bono, the Edge, Julie Taymor, Glen Berger and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; original direction by Taymor; creative consultant, Philip William McKinley; Foxwoods Theater, 213 West 42nd Street; (877) 250-2929, ticketmaster.com. Opening night: June 14, 2011.
WANT MORE THEATERGOSSIP? Scroll to check out some bests and worsts of this year's Tonys. Then search to read about Carney, Page, Damiano, Taymor and various actors, directors and playwrights like Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Emma Rice, Edward Albee and Lynn Nottage, who were not associated with "Spider-Man."