It sucked after the first preview and after the 30th. It will suck after its first official performance, and after its last, and on its 4,000th, which I’m sure it will play, undoubtedly to a packed house. It sucks worse than anything you’ve seen in ages, and maybe anything you’ve seen in your life. And after everyone’s medical bills are paid, and all the investors have bought vacation homes in Italy, and after Bono and The Edge have gone on four more world tours and made five more mostly-terrible, mostly-tuneless albums, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the single most expensive Broadway musical in all of human history, after Reeve Carney is tubby and playing the small stage at state fairs, will still completely, inarguably, utterly suck.
It doesn’t even suck in a way that’s fun (Love Never Dies), or ridiculous (Starlight Express), or offensive (Memphis) or presumptuous (Thoroughly Modern Millie) or half-baked (Wicked). That is to say, it’s not even an interesting kind of sucking, or a notable state of suck.
Because for all its money, and injuries, and hype, what happens onstage at the Foxwoods Theatre is mostly just kind of boring.
They fly for like 5 minutes. Five. That’s it. Which leaves an additional 2.65 hours of talking, overarticulated guffawing, a power outage that apparently has something to do with the title of the show, a beauty pageant of badguys that makes no sense, some army guys, a flying spider who wears dominatrix gear, midair spider sex, Gideon Glick pretending not to be mortified, Luther Creek in spandex, Zane Carney looking really bored, lyrics about glasses, a bunch of costumes that just look dirty, a dreadlocked guy drumming on a pickle tub like Angel, and scene after scene after scene of characters you don’t give a shit about a songs that put you to sleep.
This is the part of this review where I would recap the plot if I could remember any of it, but I can’t. Because Spider-Man is, for comic book/blockbuster film nonobsessives like myself, mostly incomprehensible. Like, there’s something about needing to rescue Mary Jane, who is played by poor Jen Damiano with a look of mild but persistent terror in her eyes. Then, once she’s rescued, there’s the matter of Arachne, who’s a giant mythological spider, and that’s when the spider sex happens, but I think that’s after the number where Arachne sings a song about shoes. About spider shoes. Like, a spider wearing shoes. Julie Taymor is so not even shitting you about that. In fact, if I can recommend this show at all, it’s so you can witness the extent to which Julie Taymor is not even shitting you in that exact moment.
I mean, the flying is awesome. It’s elegant and beautifully timed, and when all the bodies get where they’re supposed to be, the effect is breathtaking. There’s a reason why these moments inspire more oohs and aahs than any of the songs, and indeed, the show’s curtain call. It’s because they do something that feels legitimately fresh, and like all that money was, for half an instant, well spent. Because in other places, it’s just not.
Consider the much-hyped, allegedly-awesometastic sets, for example. For those of us who are old enough to remember Miss Saigon, with all its swooping, sliding platforms and hovering pylons, Spider-Man’s mechanics just read as kind of dopey. In one of many crazy-pills moments, a giant cardboard illustration of a baby drops out of the sky and into an equally giant, and equally cardboard hand. Like, really? Just drop a fucking baby doll into someone’s arms and save some cash, Julie!
There are moments when Julie Taymor’s vision peeks out amidst all the overbranded stupidness that’s happening on that stage, when it’s clear that she’s trying to tell a story about one young man’s struggle with his own inner demons and strengths. Part of me wants to rail against all of the obvious corporate influence here, and defend Julie’s unique choices. Like, she’s legitimately trying to create a nuanced, sensitive story that’s about more than just a guy in a suit climbing a building. But honestly, who really wants to see an elegant, mythologically-grounded Spider-Man story with feminist overtones? Who thought Bono was the guy to write that? And in the end, who cares?
It’s not that Julie could have kept this show in previews for another six months and made it awesome. It’s not that Bono could have written a dozen more songs about spiders and suddenly turned it into a masterpiece. It’s not about the work, or the money, or the time. The creators of this show were not the magic bullet of glittering monetary and creative awesomeness here. They are the damn problem. They are why Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is putting people to sleep every single night to the monotonous tune of $150. During this season, I can think of New York City hotel rooms that come cheaper. And offer more comfortable beds.