I don't know about you, but I'm definitely bored with the whole Spider-Man thing. Last week, the show finally opened after a record-breaking 183 previews, but I had long since given up paying attention. Yeah, it was great that Julie Taymor came to the opening, and yeah it was kind of condescending for Bono to say that she was looking "hot," and blah blah blah. But I'm ready to put this whole sorry mess behind me and focus on real musical theater.
As much as I've grown tired of the story surrounding Spider-Man, that doesn't even come close to the tedium of sitting through the new and "improved" version of the show. Spider-Man 1.0 was many things, but it was rarely dull, probably because you had to stay alert just to follow the wildly fractured story. Sure, Julie Taymor's vision for Spidey was bloated and pretentious, but it was at least ambitious. (Read my review of Spider-Man 1.0)
The new production team - i.e. "creative consultant" Philip William McKinley and book doctor Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa - seemed to take much of the criticism of Taymor's version of the show to heart, and set to work revamping, streamlining, and clarifying. The resulting show makes a lot more sense than it did under Taymor's ministrations. But, perversely, cutting the stuff that wasn't working only served to emphasize the mediocre-to-miserable quality of what remains.
Essentially, McKinley and Aguirre-Sacasa cut the original second act almost entirely and fleshed out the story of the first act. The much-maligned "Geek Chorus" is thankfully gone, and the bored on-stage band members have moved to the orchestra pit. The Arachne character (T.V. Carpio), Taymor's mythical and inscrutable muse for Spider-Man, and the apparent spiritual source of his power, has been trimmed to the point where it's not really clear why she's there at all. (I must admit I did sort of miss "Getting Furious," the unintentionally laugh-out-loud act-two set piece for Arachne and her bizarrely clad Furies.) The part of Uncle Ben (Ken Marks) has been beefed up in an apparent effort to make his ultimate fate more moving, but Aguirre-Sacasa seems to have confused "back-story" with "more lines." Uncle Ben appears more frequently, but he merely repeats what he's said to Peter in previous scenes.
In general, the new dialog is banal and uninspired. Mary Jane (Jennifer Damiano) and Peter Parker (Reeve Carney) bandy back and forth about wanting Peter to be her "best friend" as well as her "boyfriend." At other times, the new dialog seems taken directly from a cartoon thought balloon. (Mary Jane: "But Spider-Man would never abandon New York City.") Yes, this is based on a comic book, but what works on the page doesn't always work on stage.
The one thing that wasn't fixed, and probably could never have been in the time allotted, is the painfully dull (and piercingly loud) score by Bono and his band mate The Edge. The songs are so tedious that by the middle of Act 2, I started to dread the next song cue. ("Really, Chris? That late in the show?") The Act 1 duet for Peter and Mary Jane, "No More," is about as close as the score comes to a genuinely integrated character number, but it's still a dull song.
When will these Broadway dilettantes learn (and I'm talking to you, Duncan Sheik, Phil Collins, Elton John, etc.) that there's a huge difference between a pop song and a theater song? For musical theater, you have to write with the needs of the story in mind. The songs need to propel the action of the show, not stop it dead. They also need to be memorable, which is admittedly a far more nebulous concept, and one that Bono and The Edge seem to have lost touch with since the days of their bigger arena-rock radio hits.
The overall reaction to "If the World Should End," the song that Carney and Damiano performed on the Tony Awards (see the clip here), seems to have been, "Really? That's the best song they could come up with from the show?" Well, trust me, any of the show's numbers would have had the same soporific effect. They all just kinda sit there. What the producers should have done for the Tonys was prerecord one of the flying sequences, because that's really the only thing that almost makes this turkey worth sitting through.