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'Spider-Man': Don't Be So Quick To Write Off The Dark

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'Spider-Man': Don't Be So Quick To Write Off The Dark

Theater

'Spider-Man': Don't Be So Quick To Write Off The Dark

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W: technical difficulties, actor injuries, and multiple delays of the opening night.

Finally last week, after months of previews, critics gave up waiting and published their reviews, and "Spider-Man" got panned. We asked NPR's Bob Mondello to check out this work in progress, and tell us what patrons are seeing for as much as $275 a seat.

BOB MONDELLO: Let's start with something that sort of works: Near the end of the first act, there's a flying sequence that lasts maybe two minutes. The Green Goblin, a bad guy, has been hooked into a harness and is swinging over the heads of the folks in the expensive seats.

This is not thrilling. In fact, it's getting a little old. Spidey's done it a couple times to no particular effect. But this time, when Spidey joins the Goblin up there, Director Julie Taymor has him do something he has not done before. To surprised oohs from the crowd, he lands in a tense crouch in the theater aisle. Spidey has touched down.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONDELLO: Now, notice, this is not a musical moment created by Bono and the Edge. It has nothing to do with the show's striking but flat set design. It's not even about the aerial work, which for the most part will not make your Spidey-sense tingle.

W: put you close to a live actor. And suddenly, you're not thinking about wires and harnesses but about knee joints and tendons. Flying is mechanical; landing takes skill. And in live theater, when it's happening right next to you, you immediately get the difference.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

U: (Singing) See how the boy falls from the sky.

MONDELLO: Something else that works best when it's down-to-earth is the script. Spidey versus Green Goblin: Clear. Spidey crazy for girlfriend Mary Jane: Clear. Spidey's relationship with great-great-great-spiritual-second-cousin Arachne, spider-lady-creature-of-Greek-myth: Less clear, though you can sort of follow it.

I get why Taymor, who is a classical-theater buff, wants to bring in something non-comic-booky, but she's kind of trying too hard. A geek chorus of four kids second-guessing plot twists? First-act playground bullies who morph into a second-act military-industrial complex? A weird fixation on bad-guy fashions and spider high heels? Throw all that at a web, and things are bound to get tangled, even when the lyrics are clear.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

U: (Singing) You can change your mind, but you cannot change your heart. It's a compass and a map, the key to the jar.

MONDELLO: Lyrics, let's note, are not this show's strong suit. What "Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark" wants to be is a theme park - oddly, a $65 million theme park where patrons only get to watch other people ride the rides.

: "Annie, Too," "Home Sweet Homer," the Earth Wind Fire musical "Hot Feet." This is just a train that takes forever to get out of the station and up to speed.

Almost three hours? Come on, it's based on a comic book. A child could cut it. Get rid of the third and fourth choruses of every song, since they don't advance lyrically or build to climaxes.

When there's a visual effect that works - like a forced-perspective building painted on a ramp so Spidey can crawl up it - let us see it once, not five times. Yes, it was expensive to build but each time it pops up, it works less well.

Junk the film montage in Act 2, keep the flying, and even keep that gal Arachne, though she probably doesn't need quite so many costume changes. Just get the whole thing down to 85 snappy minutes.

: March 15, the Ides of March. Because that worked so well for Caesar?

I'm Bob Mondello.

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