Will the new Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark fly with Broadway crowds and critics? That was the question last night when the show swung back into the Foxwoods Theatre for its first preview performance after a three-week hiatus. (Opening night is now set for June 14.) Since its debut last fall, the $65 million-plus musical has become a pop culture punchline thanks to a series of cast injuries, technical malfunctions, and production delays — not to mention a some of the most scathing reviews in Broadway history. Then, in an unprecedented move last month, producers shut down the show for retooling following the departure of original director Julie Taymor. Composers Bono and the Edge remained on the creative team, bringing in director Philip McKinley and writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa to help reconfigure the production.
So what’s different about the show now? Plenty. Overall, the new Spider-Man is a far more traditional musical, having left behind most of Taymor’s more radical concepts. Gone are the guitar players on the stage wings, the Geek Chorus that narrated the action, and the story’s meta-narrative about the intersection of myth and reality. More strikingly, the second act has an entirely new storyline — a straightforward conflict between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin in lieu of a semi-mystical battle with the villainess Arachne. But that’s not all. Here’s a rundown of the show’s biggest changes.
More action: The new show includes a number of new “flying” sequences, plus more web-slinging and more scenes of Spidey bagging bad guys.
More exposition: The critically maligned Geek Chorus is indeed gone, so dialogue has been added to clarify major plot points and character motivation.
More Goblin, less Arachne: Arachne, a major character in the original show, has been reduced to a small supporting role. She’s now a guardian angel figure who appears only a handful of times. Her Furies, the minions who performed the infamous “Deeply Furious” number, have been removed entirely. Taking Arachne’s place as the show’s main evildoer is the Green Goblin, whose climactic fight with Spider-Man — which used to conclude the first act — is now the show’s finale.
New jokes: The new script takes plenty of tongue-in-cheek jabs at the media — inspired, no doubt, by the show’s spiky relationship with news outlets that have covered its troubles. J. Jonah Jameson, the fiery Daily Bugle editor, denounces bloggers and defends his newspaper by saying it’s “not the [New York] Post.” Later, the Goblin winkingly refers to himself as a “65 million dollar circus tragedy.”
Expanded characters: With Arachne out of the picture, supporting characters like Emily Osborn (the Green Goblin’s wife) and Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben and Aunt May have been beefed up.
A new song: While most of the musical numbers have been reworked, the only brand new song is “Freak Like Me,” a hard-edged anthem sung by the Green Goblin.
Still, not everything in the show was different. Most of Taymor’s set pieces remain intact, and the first act — which shows Peter Parker’s transformation into Spider-Man — follows a trajectory similar to its initial version. Also back: the show’s infamous onstage malfunctions. Stage hands were frequently visible in the wings, and Patrick Page, who plays the Goblin, appeared to improvise an extended version of his ballad “I’ll Take Manhattan” at one point when Spider-Man failed to appear on cue.
For those wondering if the revamped show is better than the old one, critics aren’t expected to weigh in until June. But the new production already has at least one group of vocal supporters: After beaming through a standing ovation, the cast could be heard cheering wildly behind the curtain as the audience filed out.