NEW YORK, NY—Most folks already know that nerdy Peter Parker, develops super-powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider, then, upon the murder of his uncle Ben, vows to fight crime. Along the way he falls in love. In the comic book, which this reporter read religiously as a kid, he was the first superhero with personal problems. In the movies, his psyche was even more exposed, and the special effects were eye-popping.
Now it’s live.
With music by Bono and The Edge, there are moments of this Broadway musical that are, indeed, truly thrilling. How cool is it to see Spidey fight The Green Goblin in mid-air above your head? Very. Especially with a solidly loud score trumping up the action.
It’s that damn love story that slows things down. In the midst of a very enjoyable action-packed comic book-styled plot (that has been streamlined into an easy-to-follow potboiler), Parker, as played with an earnest teen idol throb by Reeve Carney, and Mary Jane Wilson, as played by the totally babealicious Jennifer Damiano, halt the fun to sing love songs to each other.
It’s the mad scientist Patrick Page, who turns himself into The Green Goblin, that steals the show. His maniacal laugh, his comedic turns and how he accumulates a rogue’s gallery of bad guy monsters to decimate New York City, should all amount to a Tony Award. But won’t.
Still, it’s the visual shock of this presentation that’s the true star. This the most expensive Broadway production in history serves up the visual delights non-stop. Much has been made of its initial missteps: the rewrites, the ever-changing musical numbers, the exit of its director, the accidents, and, most of all, the fact that this production was heading to be a theatrical train wreck. Yet the perseverance of its backers and its creative team have won out in the end. At one point, flying through the air above me, landing up in the balcony, with audience members craning their necks and twisting their heads to follow the incredible aerial performance, Spider-Man landed in the aisle right next to me! I could have taken a swing and punched him right in the nose! But I’m not a bad guy, and the moment, I admit, was a thrill.
Act I even touches on the current hot-button issue of bullying and feelings of high school isolation. “Bullying By Numbers,” sung by Peter, the bullies and other students, could’ve been a U2 song. When the bullies sing “Venom,” we’re getting into Alice Cooper territory. When Peter sings “Rise Above” with his spidery guardian angel Arachne (a mysterious floating presence with many appendages), it’s akin to Tommy singing “I’m Free” in The Who’s 1969 rock opera.
Act II opens with The Green Goblin chewing up the scenery and making faces at the delighted theater-goers with “A Freak Like Me Needs Company.” As his monstrous hordes create chaos in the streets of Manhattan, Peter knows he cannot consummate his love affair. He must save New York. And in a scene worthy of a professional wrestling match, he takes on each mini-monster and lays ‘em out with a flair worthy of Dudley Do-Right on the old Rocky And Bullwinkle Show. Then he goes one-on-one, no-holds-barred against the Goblin in a wild mid-air melee that had some patrons cheering and others audibly gasping at this very in-your-face carnivalesque ending.
Will Mary Jane ever know that her would-be lover is actually Spider-Man? Can the two lead a life of love together despite Peter having to don the tights and protect humanity from future villains? The answers to both questions are revealed in the last few moments of a quiet calm after the storm of its blockbuster finale.
Yes, truth be told, you just have to dig how a comic book can come so alive.