Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark

During our Spring Break trip to New York, I brought my daughters, Melissa and Katie, along with Melissa’s friend Cory to see Spiderman on Broadway. As a soon-to-be Emerson College student majoring in technical design, Melissa was eager to view this $70 million production despite the negative media about major technical challenges, injuries on the set and a struggling storyline. During April, this Broadway show will be on hiatus as producers rework the script. Curtains open again on June 14th.

(Katie gets a picture with “Spiderman” Reeve Carney in front of the theatre)

On the evening we attended, the audience performed a collective gasp when some scenery fell apart onstage. How odd to hear “an unseen voice” announce that the show would be delayed for a few moments until the set was fixed. A few minutes later everyone erupted into applause for the unshaken actor – the very talented Reeve Carney who plays Peter Parker, the unmasked Spiderman.

Reeve is very talented. He is the lead singer of his band Carney and at age 8, Reeve recorded an album with Peter, Paul and Mary. The music and lyrics by Bono and The Edge frame the musical with a contemporary beat as Carney’s brother plays the guitar on the side stage. And of course Jennifer Damiano, nominated for a Tony at age 17 for her performance in Next to Normal, was outstanding in her Spiderman role as Mary Jane Watson – Peter Parker’s girlfriend.

Please know that I am not a professional theatre critic. I sure couldn’t perform onstage, much less fly through the air onto the balcony along a web of ropes. However, I would like to provide my theatre seat review. Bottom line, the critics have some valid points. The script needs some strategic strengthening. I commend the award winning director Julie Taymor. I fully believe her vision for this show has true merit, but she also had the unusual and monumental responsibility to co-write the script. Recently the producers replaced Taymor with Philip McKinley who now faces the challenge of “reworking” for the “reopening.” Here are my two words of advice from the theatre seat: “Plug into”:

“Plug into” the effective digital media. Recycle those cardboard cutouts and remove them from the stage. It is challenging to create a musical based on a comic strip – a delicate balance between the “Bam” moments between villains and the poignant treatment of deep emotions of grief. The Second Act of Spiderman, however, was much more focused. The comic book “cardboard” cut-outs of super villains were minimized during that act and replaced instead with digitized images – a much more effective means to connect with a digital age audience. The use of this media melded well with the rock music score. MTV moments. In addition, the spotlight on the “storytelling ensemble” was minimized — an inherent tenet of strong writing:

Show, don’t tell! The audience would rather experience the characters, rather than listen impatiently to someone talking about them. The producers should open the show with the breathtaking scene of Arachne suspended in the air as she weaves gorgeous orange gold cloths that billow on stage. Arachne is essential to understanding the premise of the Spiderman story. She is the talented mortal weaver who bragged about how she was better than the Greek goddess Athena. Athena punished her by turning Arachne into a spider.

“Plug into” universal emotions. Connect with the audience on a deeper level. Yes, Spiderman connects and interacts when the superhero flies into and over the audience. Exhilarating. Emotionally, Spiderman’s story has the potential to be a blend of the Broadway hits Wicked and Phantom of the Opera. Arachne becomes a “Phantom” figure who tries to lure Peter Parker with deceit into a dark world for her own narcissist purposes. Peter Parker experiences ultimate darkness after his beloved uncle dies in an accident that Peter had the powers to prevent. That pivotal moment was palpable as the audience witnesses this emotional turning point in Peter’s life.

He chooses to fight evil with good and to destroy the Green Goblin and other super villains. (On a side note, isn’t it an interesting parallel with the symbolism of green in Wicked and Spiderman?) Spiderman flips on an emotional “light switch” to a universal truth: Bad things happen in life, but we have the choice as to how to individually respond to grief and loss. Bitterness is the ultimate darkness of life. The Green Goblin couldn’t forgive the people who caused the death of his true love, so he chooses to hurt others. Arachne couldn’t overcome her bitterness about being turned into a spider for eternity by Athena, so she chooses to hurt others. Peter, however, chooses to “Rise Above” – a beautiful song in this musical with a meaning quite similar to “Defying Gravity” of Wicked.

“Plug into” widespread promotion. In my opinion, Spiderman has a huge potential to connect and lure the audience into its web and to become a commercial hit. For the new opening night on June 14th, perhaps Spiderman’s publicity should be further heightened so this Broadway web can extend even wider. From a business perspective, I would suggest that the producers invite Verizon – which has one of the largest webs, or rather networks with over 93 million subscribers- to play a starring role as a promotional partner.

On June 14th, I have great confidence that Spiderman will “Rise Above” as it reopens on Broadway. Break a leg!.

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