Few would have imagined that when Spider-Man first found his super-hero way into Marvel comics (August 1962) that 50 years later he would battle his Green Goblin nemesis above a delighted audience rather than in two-dimensional rectangular frames filled with “Bam,” “Splat” and “Arrgh!”
After a technically challenging and physically dangerous incubation period, the protector of the downtrodden has found yet another life using virtually every square inch of the specially equipped Foxwoods Theatre.
Adding music and lyrics (Bono and The Edge) as well as dance (choreography on and above the stage by Daniel Ezralow) into director Julie Taymor’s original mix adds still more to the adage that something old can be very new again. Inserting 21st century references (book by Traymor, Glen Berger and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa) such as cell phone follies and Facebook envy provides cheap-laugh lines at the expense of the long, proud history of evil perpetrators being brought to justice by men in tights, weakening the power of the storyline like kryptonite bedevils Superman. But don’t be alarmed or pass up a chance to experience the Cirque du Soleil approach to depicting this red-and-blue masked man. Only curmudgeonly “of a certain age” purists would balk at any of the liberties taken with Stan Lee’s long-lasting, universal invention. And besides, a very large proportion of every audience has never read a single strip of the inaugural use of the “web” for the forces of good (and wasn’t the second use as a super communicator for the U.S. military and academia similarly laudable for the government’s protection of its citizens from the horrors of those who—like the Sinister Six—are to be scorned, destroyed or sanctioned because they are so different?).
Playing mild-mannered Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Reeve Carney most certainly looks the part and readily holds his own when it’s his turn to spin to the rescue (necessarily, a number of other dashing young men don the fabled costume to reinforce the notion of bounding speed; curiously a couple of them bring a bit of the circus to the show as they demonstrate gymnastic prowess of podium calibre). Carney’s edgy, at times purposely raspy vocal contributions don’t seem out of place given the composer’s own performing style, but the collective effect belies his initially innocent/nerdy persona then saviour of NYC as his “Rise Above” theme takes on an unintended ominous tone.
The love of his life and the show’s most radiant talent on all fronts comes from Rebecca Faulkenberry’s beautifully nuanced, powerful-never-pushed portrayal of Mary Jane Watson. The other vrai musical treasure enticingly emanates from the heavens thanks to Katrina Lenk’s take on Arachne, weaving a web of melodies that snare all who come near.
Driven mad-scientist then evil incarnate Norman Osborn/Green Goblin has a totally worthy advocate in Robert Cuccioli. Whether planning to save the planet from itself (an environmentally correct twist in the narrative) or subsequently ready to destroy all comers—aided and abetted with his ever-metaphorical band of freaks: Reed Kelly was a standout as the shimmering Swiss Miss—Cuccioli digs deep into the role and ends up—literally thanks to Kyle Cooper’s truly awesome projection design—mightily despised by one and all (the youthful crowds’ cheering, booing and collective joy/embarrassment when the Parker/Watson love story locks lips is a wonderful testament to the inner-child unleashed, felt and shared by the hundreds in the theatre rather than in the singular imaginations of long-ago readers).
Of course—and also like the circus—the plot matters little. It’s the aerial spectacle that fills seats more than anything else. The artistic trust carefully builds the flybys, climaxing as Spider-Man and Green Goblin duke it out like trapeze artists gone crazy. The late-inning revelation that the verdant master of mayhem is also an accomplished cocktail lounge crooner (“I’ll Take Manhattan,” wink, wink nudge nudge) deftly sets up the inevitable conclusion in the key of comeuppance glee.
Patrons young and old are delighted with the outcome, happy to realize that the bullies in their lives will—someday soon, we all hope—be made to pay for their misdeeds as well. JWR