Finally, near the end of the first act of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” the audience at the Foxwoods Theater on Saturday night got what it had truly been waiting for, whether it knew it or not. Calamity struck, and it was a real-life (albeit small) calamity — not some tedious, confusing tripe involving a pretty girl dangling from a skyscraper and supervillains laying siege to Manhattan. And not the more general and seriously depressing disaster that was the sum of the mismatched parts that had been assembled onstage.
No, an honest-to-gosh, showstopping glitch occurred, just as the title character of this new musical was about to vanquish or be vanquished by the evil Green Goblin. Never fully explained “mechanical difficulties” were announced by an amplified voice (not immediately distinguishable from the other amplified voices we had been hearing for what felt like forever), as the actors in the scene deflated before our eyes. And for the first time that night something like genuine pleasure spread through the house.
That glee soon took the form of spontaneous, nigh-ecstatic applause, a sound unheard in the previous hour. After vamping on a green fake piano (don’t ask), Patrick Page (who plays the Goblin with a gusto unshared by any other member of the cast) ad-libbed a warning to Reeve Carney (who stars as Spider-Man), who had been awkwardly marking time by pretending to drink Champagne.
“You gotta be careful,” Mr. Page said. “You’re gonna fly over the heads of the audience, you know. I hear they dropped a few of them.”
“Roar,” went the audience, like a herd of starved, listless lions, roused into animation by the arrival of feeding time. Everyone, it seemed, understood Mr. Page’s reference to the injuries that have been incurred by cast and crew members during the long (and officially still far from over) preview period for this $65 million musical. Permission to laugh had been granted, and a bond had temporarily been forged between a previously baffled audience and the beleaguered souls onstage.
All subsequent performances of “Spider-Man” should include at least one such moment. Actively letting theatergoers in on the national joke that this problem-plagued show has become helps make them believe that they have a reason to be there.
This production should play up regularly and resonantly the promise that things could go wrong. Because only when things go wrong in this production does it feel remotely right — if, by right, one means entertaining. So keep the fear factor an active part of the show, guys, and stock the Foxwoods gift shops with souvenir crash helmets and T-shirts that say “I saw ‘Spider-Man’ and lived.” Otherwise, a more appropriate slogan would be “I saw ‘Spider-Man’ and slept.”
I’m not kidding. The sheer ineptitude of this show, inspired by the Spider-Man comic books, loses its shock value early. After 15 or 20 minutes, the central question you keep asking yourself is likely to change from “How can $65 million look so cheap?” to “How long before I’m out of here?”
Directed by Julie Taymor, who wrote the show’s book with Glen Berger, and featuring songs by U2’s Bono and the Edge, “Spider-Man” is not only the most expensive musical ever to hit Broadway; it may also rank among the worst.
I would like to acknowledge here that “Spider-Man” doesn’t officially open until March 15; at least that’s the last date I heard. But since this show was looking as if it might settle into being an unending work in progress — with Ms. Taymor playing Michelangelo to her notion of a Sistine Chapel on Broadway — my editors and I decided I might as well check out “Spider-Man” around Monday, the night it was supposed to have opened before its latest postponement.
You are of course entitled to disagree with our decision. But from what I saw on Saturday night, “Spider-Man” is so grievously broken in every respect that it is beyond repair. Fans of Ms. Taymor’s work on the long-running musical “The Lion King,” adapted from the animated Walt Disney feature, will have to squint charitably to see evidence of her talent.
True, signature Taymor touches like airborne puppets, elaborate masks and perspective-skewing sets (George Tsypin is the scenic designer) are all on hand. But they never connect into a comprehensible story with any momentum. Often you feel as if you were watching the installation of Christmas windows at a fancy department store. At other times the impression is of being on a soundstage where a music video is being filmed in the early 1980s. (Daniel Ezralow’s choreography is pure vintage MTV.)
Nothing looks truly new, including the much-vaunted flying sequences in which some poor sap is strapped into an all-too-visible harness and hoisted uneasily above the audience. (Aren’t they doing just that across the street in “Mary Poppins”?) This is especially unfortunate, since Ms. Taymor and her collaborators have spoken frequently about blazing new frontiers with “Spider-Man,” of venturing where no theater artist (pardon me, I mean artiste) has dared to venture before.