Referring to Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark as a train wreck is both a tautology and inaccurate. After all, never in human history have two trains — upon crashing — suddenly morphed Voltron-style into a patchwork homunculus made of stray bits of caboose and bar car who suddenly begins bellowing, "THIS LOOKS BAD BUT WE CAN MAKE IT WORK."
Fortunately for the warbling webslinger, the musical is getting some serious revisions, as former writer/director Julie Taymor is rumored to be exiting with the script. But what edits could make this stumbling production stand on its own eight legs?
NOTE: Spoilers ahead.
Snarking on STOTD's production imbroglios has now become a national pastime. After a $70 million budget, well publicized cast injuries, scathing reviews seemingly determined to one-up each other in vitriol, a glowing review from Glenn Beck, its own Taiwanese news animation, and Broadway majestrix Julie Taymor getting the pink slip, the show keeps chugging along, accruing a not-show-ending $1 million a week.
Now the play's closing on April 19 for revisions (it'll reopen for previews on May 12 and officially open June 14), and Taymor's threatening to abscond with the script, a move that's equal parts boon and disaster for Turn Off The Dark. Nobody wants to rewrite an entire $70 million Broadway show in less than month, but Taymor's script (my biggest gripe about the show) was an incomprehensible slurry of the Spider-Man origin tale and fuzzy fourth wall breaking.
By means of a 75%-of-the-time-irritating "Geek Chorus," Taymor is unabashed that she's telling her version of the Spiderman mythos. Comic book writers regularly flex and retcon a superhero's backstory to fit their narrative needs, but Taymor remixes the Spidey story such that it's like watching the adventures of his 1980s Turkish bootleg equivalent, The 8-Eyed Boy And His Nemesis The Angry Mr. Guava*. What aspects of Taymor's script are in need of drastic revision?
1.) Peter becomes Spider-Man thanks to mystical manipulation
Taymor's biggest overhaul of the Spider-Man origin is the addition of the Greek myth of Arachne. Throughout the musical, Arachne's arcane influence prods Peter towards becoming a toe-tapping genetic abomination — she makes him his costume and impels the mutant spider to nip him. She's weaving his destiny from behind the scenes, a revelation the saps the superhero of any agency. Nerdly Peter Parker doesn't learn that with great power comes great responsibility; he's pressganged into becoming Brundlefly. Speaking of which...
2.) Uncle Ben shows up, only to get hit by Flash Thompson's stolen car
Uncle Ben's death is the catalyst for Spider-Man becoming friendly and neighborly (instead of douchey and Hollywood). The show spends maybe 45 seconds on this keystone event — Peter argues with him and Ben dies. Imagine if Vernon Dursley had a fatal stroke in the first ten pages of Harry Potter.
3.) The Green Goblin charms the audience, then disappears
Much of the first act is invested on good ol' boy mad scientist Norman Osborn. The tragic transformation of Osborn's jocular Colonel Sanders-meets-Mr. Wizard into a flying reptile-bat is one of the show's more weirdly touching moments, and Turn Off The Dark almost entirely jettisons Norman in the second act.
4.) Similarly, the Sinister Six show up for six seconds
Carnage, the Lizard, Kraven, Swarm, Electro, and Taymor's ninja-starred-nippled creation Swiss Miss are plastered across ads and promotional materials. They each appear in the second act's supervillain fashion show and are then "defeated" when Peter destroys giant projections of them by pantomiming karate. They have no dialogue, no characterization. Don't sell us on a Sinister Six and deliver a Distasteful Half-Dozen.
5.) Peter vacillates to the point of complete unlikeability
In Act Two, Peter dumps his Spider-Man identity so he can some more time canoodling with Mary Jane. A couple scenes later, (projections of) the Sinister Six are annihilating New York City (and, for some reason, the pyramids in Egypt). This isn't a random mugging Peter's ignoring — the hero's casting a blind eye to world war for spooning time!
6.) The chemistry between Mary Jane and Peter is a foregone conclusion
Furthermore, Turn Off The Dark plays the romance between Mary Jane and Peter as a given. He likes her, she tolerates him, and they're the Lockhorns. No wonder Peter's zero-gravity dream sex sequence with Arachne smolders. Incidentally...
7.) Most of Act Two is a dream!
That was acceptable for the last season of Roseanne, but I didn't pay $150 to watch the last season of Roseanne. Shit, I didn't even watch the last season of Roseanne.
8.) The show is not about J. Jonah Jameson
Along with Patrick Page's Green Goblin, Michael Mulheren's J. Jonah Jameson is one of the few characters who appears to be having fun with the production. Rewrite the show as an Odd Couple-style apartment farce with these two and I'll see it every week.
9.) There's no epic final battle
See points 3, 4, and 7.
10.) At the end of the day, the script was less about Spider-Man and more about the inherent novelty of Julie Taymor covering Spider-Man
The play is peppered with in-jokes about how Arachne is Taymor's proxy. At one point, Arachne opines she's the only true artist (or something akin to that). There's a difference between putting your own unique spin on a superhero and sacrificing the character's fidelity for a vanity project. It's not enough to rotely recap the events of Spider-Man's origin — the show must convince the audience that he's an intriguing hero (and not just because those Sam Raimi movies made the GDP of Greenland). The script needs to extricate itself from its own web of self-referential hooey.
*Incidentally, the Turkish Spider-Man is a vicious gangster who murders his victim with gerbils and boat propellers.