After disastrous early reviews and constant postponements, the Julie Taymor musical Spiderman closed down to revamp the material without Julie Taymor. Reports that her schedule didn’t allow for her to continue daily attention to the show was supposedly the reason she was replaced. Although Taymor maintains a credit as “Original Director,” Philip Wm. McKinley, a circus as well as a theatre man, was brought in to take over the direction. His contribution has improved the production tremendously. Young Chase Brock, leader of the small Brooklyn based dance company, “The Chase Brock Experience” and expert in the history and traditions of musical theatre, took over the choreography duties, though Daniel Ezralo retains his credit as dance and arial choreographer. Also, comic book writer and playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa was brought in to revamp the book, originally written by Taymor and Glen Berger. This is the area where the most work was done, for the majority of the book is brand new and all for the better. Now the building of the relationship between Mary Jane (Jennifer Damiano) and Peter Parker (Reeve Carney) is realized, now Aunt May (Isabel Keating) is a full through-line character rather than a cameo, now the Green Goblin (Patrick Page) is fleshed out and spans the whole of the story. In the old version, Act II. had a villainess, Arachne (T.V. Carpio), take over the plot in a confusing and senseless episode that didn’t relate much to the first act. Now the character is a kind of guardian angel for Peter Parker. Keeping the character allowed some of the production’s most stunning images to remain, even though the character has been changed and diminished. No problem there, for what we really want to see is how a lonely teenage boy suddenly finds himself with extraordinary powers and how he will use those powers for the greater good. The over all scope of the story now matches, more or less, what we know from the film, though it is told through high concept and immense spectacle. The book has structure, intelligence, character development and holds a bland, rock soundscape of a score together.
Bono and the Edge have significantly reworked their score to accommodate the story changes––especially in Act II. Songs have been moved around to new places, new lyrics added, new titles applied and it all makes sense now. However, the score is an ocean of rock ballads, is entirely uninventive, lacks variety and is over amplified to the point of drowning the singers half of the time. It is impossible to judge the lyrics, but thanks to the crystal clear book, it is easy to follow the story without understanding the lyrics. Even Peter Parker’s big power ballad, “The Boy Falls From the Sky,” which is given the power ballad treatment with the orchestrations, lighting and the actor’s final gesture of fist in air, is bland and without a thrill. Yet, a good portion of the audience reacted to it the way those Frank Wildhorn fans react to his power ballads in Jekyll and Hyde and other shows. But, there was no high belted note, no American Idol vocal pyrotechnics––just a middle of the road easily held long note in a comfortable placement. Reeve Carney’s singing voice is not shown to the greatest potential. Nor is Jennifer Damiano showcased well, for Mary Jane is a character that demands a great song and is given what amounts to leftovers. The authors have not utilized the talents of the leading couple to the best effect. The score fails the show more than any other element at this point.
The sets and costumes from the first version are retained with slight modifications and a lot more video projections to help in the transitions formerly handled by an irritating group of teenagers who used to narrate the show. Those narrators are thankfully gone, but this change didn’t help give the show a better pace. The show still plods along at times, especially during the first half hour as we lead up to the moment Peter discovers his powers in one of the more inventive numbers, “Bouncing Off the Walls,” where he literally springs and dances from ceiling to wall to wall. Chase Brock has added plenty of interesting moves to compliment the spirit and style of the street dancing and acrobatics that have always dominated the show’s musical staging, but he has added some quieter moments––giving the staging a poetry that elevates the experience above the level of an elaborate amusement park show.
All said and done, the production does play like an amusement park show, but at least now it all makes sense. Those who saw the first version will notice the good in the changes, but ultimately this does not make Spiderman a good musical. For the teenagers and kids in the audience it was obviously an amazing experience and visually it is wonderful. A 14 year old boy seeing Spiderman as his first Broadway experience is bound to think that Broadway is pretty cool. For a seasoned theatre goer, this show may be a curiosity, but more so it is bound to be a disappointment.