The Spider-Man the Musical Saga closed another chapter of its saga last night with a star-studded opening — President Bill Clinton attended, as did Matt Damon, Cindy Crawford, and of course, composers Bono and the Edge. Even more notably, director Julie Taymor, who got fired three months ago, showed up and took a curtain call. On the red carpet she was repeatedly asked if she missed being a part of this, to which she fired back, “I AM part of this.” At the end of the curtain call, Taymor and Bono even shared a cold, celebratory smooch.
In the garden I was playing the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart
You were acting like it was the end of the world
Bono was philosophical about all the brickbats the show has received, including the pasting by the MUPPETS shown below, “We would have been hurt if they ignored us,” he told reporters. “It’s a bit of a sport around here. It’s with great affection. If Spider-Man were just to disappear, certainly the late-night comics would be very sad.”
Reviews of the Phillip McKinley/Aguirre-Sacasa saved version were…mixed.
But there are compensations for the eye and ear. The set design — a mix of comic-book pop-ups and dark, Tim Burton-ish cityscapes — is as striking as ever. The Bono-Edge score, moreover, is no disappointment. It really rocks, and the repeated five- and six-note figures that anchor the anthemic “Rise Above” and the sweetly melancholy duet “No More” have stayed with me. There’s more humor now (when the Goblin tries to leave a phone warning with the newspaper, he can’t get past the automated voice prompts), and one bright new number, “A Freak Like Me Needs Company,” which provides a lift at the start of Act II.
The numbers that work best are those performed by Carney and Damiano. These evocative performers project the awkward sweetness of teenage yearning in duets such as “Picture This” and “If the World Should End.” (Matthew James Thomas, who plays Peter at matinees, is a less impressive singer, but a sensitive actor.)
The thing with a show like Spider-Man is that some of the eye-rollingest moments have magical potential, thanks to an audience full of kids. As Peter explains to Mary Jane that his Spider-Man responsibilities will often take him away, he reassures her, “Every time you look up, I’m gonna be there.” My gag gesture was at the ready, until the nine-ish year-old boy behind me breathlessly uttered, “Yup, he is.” Faithful wonder 1, cynicism 0.
The Times’ Ben Brantley had the sharpest words for the original shoe-shopping version, and found this one only a bit better:
Partly because the performers are masked, you experience little of the vicarious wonder and exhilaration that comes from watching Peter Pan or even Mary Poppins ride the air in other musicals. The effect is rather like looking at anonymous daredevils who have been strapped into a breakneck ride at an amusement park. Come to think of it, Coney Island might be a more satisfying choice.
Although this would seem to be a happy — or at least happy-ish — ending for the injury- and drama-plagued show, insiders suggest that the $80 million cost of mounting the show will still be its undoing. Mike Fleming writes at Deadline:
So why can’t Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark live with godawful reviews we all expected and thrive with the tourist crowd? My sources tell me that the reason is the operating costs are just too stratospheric. The budget, I’m told, is already in the $80 million range, and the economics just won’t add up. It’ll last a year, maybe, but it will be hard-pressed to escape what many feel will be its inevitable place in history: Broadway’s biggest-ever debacle.
Well, there’s no people like show people. And this has proved it.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.