After close to 150 previews and a three-week hiatus, Broadway’s troubled “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” unveiled its new, heavily retooled version Thursday — a show that harks back to a more familiar story line, transforms a major character, adds new songs and seriously lightens its mood with a bunch of one-liners.
Talk about turning off the dark — the comic touches even extended to a joke about the show’s own bloated price tag, the largest in Broadway history by far. “I’m a $65 million circus tragedy,” quipped the villainous Green Goblin. “Well, more like $75 million.”
Producers were blunt about the extent of changes to the show as they took the stage for what they joked was not the 146th preview, but the “second first preview.” (Opening night is scheduled for June 14.)
“This is almost a brand-new show,” said producer Michael Cohl.
And in many ways it was, from the ditching of the former Geek Chorus, a narration device; to the complete transformation of the character of Arachne, formerly a villainess, now a guiding angel; to the much-enhanced relationships between Peter Parker and girlfriend M.J., not to mention between Parker and his rival Green Goblin.
Also beefed up were the roles of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and the relationship between mad scientist Norman Osborn (who turns into Goblin) and his wife. And in a move sure to delight Spidey purists, an iconic Spider-Man line has been added: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
A climactic aerial battle is now much later in the show, rather than in the first act — making it truly climactic — and some stunts have been added.
Yet much of the striking visuals and stagecraft is still the distinctive work of Julie Taymor, who was pushed aside in March and now is credited as the “original” director, as well as one of three script writers.
Actor Patrick Page, who as Green Goblin has an expanded role, paid tribute to Taymor during a stage-door interview.
“Julie Taymor is literally one of the world’s greatest artists,” he told The Associated Press. “Everything about ‘Spider-Man’ came from her vision and her passion.”
And actress T.V. Carpio, who plays Arachne, noted that “if this version succeeds, it is because of everyone, including Julie Taymor.”
Taymor’s ousting was soon followed by the three-week hiatus, an effort to save a show that was nearly defeated by a series of stunt accidents during its extended run in previews, and largely panned by critics who reviewed while still in previews.
The worst of the stunt accidents was the frightening fall of Christopher Tierney, who performs most of Spider-Man’s aerial stunts and suffered a fractured skull, a fractured shoulder blade, four broken ribs and three broken vertebrae on Dec. 20 when he tumbled in front of a shocked audience after a safety harness failed.
He returned to the role Thursday and remarkably showed no signs of his injury.
“It was a 2½-hour roller coaster ride,” an exuberant Tierney said outside after the show. “I’m stronger coming back than I was before,” he said. “Only a little soreness here and there.” He also spoke of a huge rush of emotion among cast members — who indeed could be heard chanting with joy after the curtain calls.
Asked if the show was safe now for the actors, he laughed. “We are the safest show on Broadway, I’ll tell you that much,” Tierney said. “I actually think it’s a little too much now.”
The rest of the cast was equally exultant.
“It feels great,” said Reeve Carney, who plays Peter Parker/Spider-Man. “This cast is so amazing and we’re all feeding off of each other. It keeps us going.” Carney said he especially enjoyed getting to tell jokes. And he confessed he didn’t exactly mind when an audience member expressed her admiration. (“He’s not THAT cute,” a character said of Peter Parker. “Yes, he is!” the woman in the audience yelled out.)
Page, a veteran actor, called the performance “one of the greatest nights I’ve ever had in the theater.” In perhaps the only slight mess-up, the actor had to ad-lib a bit when Carney, apparently missing his Spider-Man mask, was delayed in one entrance. “That Spider-Man is always tardy,” Goblin quipped.
Page, who also has a new number by Bono and The Edge, said his favorite change to the show was the new focus on relationships, and “being able to tell the story straight through, without stops. That seems to engage the audience more.”
Many theatergoers seemed happy with the results of the retooling. “I understand there were some continuity problems before,” said Scot Robinson, visiting from Edmonton, Canada, during intermission. “But I really like it. The scale is wildly ambitious.”
“Wow,” said Jennelle Gilreath, 24, visiting New York from Chattanooga, Tenn. “If you want to be entertained for 2½ hours, this is the show to go to!” She said she loved both the aerial choreography and that onstage dancing, but allowed that the dialogue was “kind of cheesy.”
Thursday’s show was crowded but not quite sold out. Rick Miramontez, a show spokesman, said tickets were selling briskly, though the show’s own website indicated dozens of available seats for the next few days. Some ticket brokers were offering up to 40 percent off orchestra and balcony seats.
The new show expects to have about a month of previews before its June 14 opening. Producers are hoping the reaction to the reboot will be as typical as that of a 50-strong group of eighth-graders down from St. Joseph’s school in Haverhill, Mass.
“I am really excited,” said 14-year-old Connor Manning, before entering the theater. “I’m sure they’ve taken all the precautions they need to prevent more accidents. I’m expecting great things!”