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Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Upon a preliminary viewing back in February, "Spider-Man" was a spectacular mess. The finished version is reasonably improved but somewhat less spectacular.

With:
Peter Parker/Spider-Man - Reeve Carney
Arachne - T.V. Carpio
Mary Jane Watson - Jennifer Damiano
Aunt May (and others) - Isabel Keating
Norman Osborn/Green Goblin - Patrick Page
Emily Osborn (and others) - Laura Beth Wells
J. Jonah Jameson - Michael Mulheren

They said it couldn’t be done. After a mere nine years of planning and an unprecedented 183 previews — extending from Thanksgiving weekend until midway between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July — “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” has officially turned on the lights at the Foxwoods Theater. That’s the former Ford and Hilton, now bearing the name of the Connecticut casino; not unfittingly so, as the whole thing remains a $70 million crapshoot. Upon a preliminary viewing back in February, “Spider-Man” was a spectacular mess. The finished version is reasonably improved but somewhat less spectacular.

As you might have heard, “Spider-Man” is a joint creation of Julie Taymor — the miracle worker behind “The Lion King” — and songwriters Bono and the Edge of U2. The enormity of the show’s tech and storytelling problems was bruited about since the first preview, becoming codified following an uninvited mid-winter visit by many of the first-night critics.

Some drastic changes that have been incorporated since then, under the guidance of new contributors including “creative consultant” Philip William McKinley (whose only prior mainstem credit is the Hugh Jackman hit “The Boy from Oz”), book-writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (from the comicbook world) and choreographer Chase Brock (from the contemp dance world). Taymor, who exited the produdction in March, retains credit as co-librettist and for “original direction.”

Several much-discussed flaws — the “Geek Chorus” framing device, extensive stage-time for the Taymor-created spider-woman Arachne, a jaw-droppingly misguided musical number about shoes — are gone, certainly for the better. But they tended to give distinct flavor to the show, and flavor is what “Spider-Man” now lacks.

Tuner proceeded without a technical glitch at a press preview Friday, but there seems to be significantly less exciting flying than remembered. Even so, first-time viewers are likely to be impressed with the aerials, especially the over-your-head battle scenes. Also standing out are the eerily effective scenic design by George Tsypin; a grandly villainous turn by Patrick Page (“The Grinch”), in an expanded role as the Green Goblin; and an attractive performance by twenty-year-old Jennifer Damiano (“Next to Normal”).

Leading the many negatives, though, is the ineffective score: Despite apparent rewrites, this remains the show’s Achilles’ heel. The song list includes four new titles, but to little avail, and the dramaturgy is still muddled, only with more jokes. This is a show that rises to the occasion only when the actors of the ensemble are flying; when people start singing or talking, the momentum — like the boy in the climactic second act song — “falls from the sky.”

Reeve Carney is effective in the title role, but customers should be warned that he doesn’t appear at a quarter of the performances (on a schedule that seems not to be publicized to ticketbuyers). And while he does a significant amount of singing and acting, that thrilling webslinging over your head and up to the balcony rail is, for the most part, not Carney but one of several unnamed actors wearing his costume and mask.

The reported $70 million expense — likedly pushed higher by a three-week closed-for-repairs period earlier this spring — makes “Spider-Man” four times as costly as the typical large-scale Broadway musical. Whether it can generate the “Wicked”-sized grosses necessary to recoup those costs remains the supersized question. But what was a sometimes inchoate mess has, thanks to the post-Taymor fixes, taken a giant leap to mediocrity, which makes for a significant improvement.

Musical numbers: “The Myth of Arachne,” “Behold and Wonder,” “Bullying by Numbers,” “No More,” “D.I.Y. World,” “Venom,” “Bouncing Off the Walls,” “Rise Above,” “Pull the Trigger,” “Picture This,” “A Freak Like Me,” “If the World Should End,” “Sinistereo,” “Spider-Man!” “Turn Off the Dark,” “I Just Can’t Walk Away,” “The Boy Falls From the Sky,” “I’ll Take Manhattan,” “A New Dawn”

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Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Foxwoods; 1,953 seats; $140 top

Production: A Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris, Land Line Productions, Hello Entertainment/David Garfinkle/Tony Adams, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Norton Herrick and Herrick Entertainment, Billy Rovzar and Fernando Rovzar, Stephen Bronfman, Jeffrey B. Hecktman, Omneity Entertainment/Richard G. Weinberg, James L. Nederlander, Terry Allen Kramer, S2BN Entertainment, Jam Theatricals, Mayerson/Gould/Hauser/Tysoe Group, Patricia Lambrecht and Paul McGuinness (by special arrangement with Marvel Entertainment) presentation of a musical in two acts with music and lyrics by Bono and The Edge, book by Julie Taymor, Glen Berger and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. Original direction by Taymor; creative consultant, Philip William McKinley; choreography and aerial choreography by Daniel Ezralow; additional choreography by Chase Brock.

Creative: Music direction by Kimberly Grigsby. Set, George Tsypin; costumes, Eiko Ishioka; lighting, Donald Holder; sound, Jonathan Deans; projections, Kyle Cooper; masks, Taymor; aerial design, Jaque Paquin; arrangements and orchestrations, David Campbell; vocal arrangements, Campbell, Teese Gohl and Grigsby; production stage managers, C. Randall White and Kathleen E. Purvis. Opened June 14, 2011, reviewed June 10. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Cast: Peter Parker/Spider-Man - Reeve Carney
Arachne - T.V. Carpio
Mary Jane Watson - Jennifer Damiano
Aunt May (and others) - Isabel Keating
Norman Osborn/Green Goblin - Patrick Page
Emily Osborn (and others) - Laura Beth Wells
J. Jonah Jameson - Michael MulherenWith: Ken Marks, Jeb Brown, Matt Caplan, Dwayne Clark, Luther Creek, Kevin Aubin, Gerald Avery, Collin Baja, Marcus Bellamy, Emmanuel Brown, Erin Elliott, Craig Henningsen, Dana Marie Ingraham, Ayo Jackson, Heather Lang, Ari Loeb, Natalie Lomonte, Kristen Martin, Jodi McFadden, Bethany Moore, Kristen Faith Oei, Jennifer Christine Perry, Brandon Rubendall, Sean Samuels, Dollar Tan, Christopher W. Tierney.

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