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'Spider-Man' on Broadway: No superpowers needed to sniff out this stinker

A banner covering the front of the Foxwoods Theater on 42nd street in New York for the "Spider-Man" play.
A banner covering the front of the Foxwoods Theater on 42nd street in New York for the "Spider-Man" play. (AP)

The tale doesn't so much unfold as ooze out, on the operating theory that if you throw everything against a theater wall, something might stick. It essentially begins with the superhero metamorphosis of nerdy Peter Parker, played by the likable Matthew James Thomas at the performance I attended; he alternates in the role with Reeve Carney. From there, things get convoluted, fast.

Solemn comic-book myths merge with solemn Greek myths and apocalyptic environmental visions for the origin stories of heroes and villains, who multiply in numbers (and ever more outrageous get-ups) as the production wears on. Shapeless expository scenes in laboratories and newsrooms elongate the proceedings. A perfunctory romance lurches along between Peter and the love of his life, budding actress Mary Jane Watson (Jennifer Damiano).

A so-called "Geek Chorus" of caffeinated Marvel comic fanatics (Gideon Glick, Jonathan Schwartz, Mat Devine and Alice Lee) hangs out on the edge of the stage, offering utterly superfluous commentary. Maybe they'd earn their place up there if they could explain the ludicrous role of Arachne (T.V. Carpio), a woman transformed by the goddess Athena into a spider who has spent several millennia awaiting the arrival of another spider-human hybrid. She's a New Agey sort of bad gal who has the worst song in the show, something to do with a raid on 50 shoe stores by Arachne's gang of eight-legged Furies. The high-heeled spoils are affixed to, yes, the spider-ladies' extremities.

Or wait, maybe the bottom of the barrel is a weird on-the-runway sequence, in which a cadre of second-tier villains with names like Swiss Miss and Carnage do a bit of high-fashion sashaying. In the running, too, is a bizarre military number, as well as the first-act closer, a rip-off of a Rodgers and Hart song. The latter is sung by - get out your score cards - the other main-event evildoer, the Green Goblin, a former scientist played by the talented classical actor Patrick Page.

Page and the other principal actors, burdened by Taymor and Glen Berger's lumbering book, never stand a chance.

The score, by Bono and the U2 guitarist the Edge, is an ineffectual bystander. It's loud and pulsing and devoid of personality. I've rarely experienced a production in which the music is so completely drowned out by the sets. Designer George Tsypin uses elaborate hydraulics to conjure the Chrysler Building and other Manhattan skyscrapers from all sorts of angles and perspectives.

The images are intended to showcase the musical's star. That would not be a person, but a rope trick. Spider-gliding is what this show is selling, and so you wait for the wires to be hooked to the phalanx of stunt men who take turns being guided from midair onto ledges on the theater's upper levels.

If watching actors in latex land in the mezzanine is your idea of an evening well spent, "Spider-Man" won't seem a gargantuan waste. Musical lovers, however, might wish the whole unsalvageable thing would just take a flying leap.

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark music and lyrics by Bono and the Edge, book by Julie Taymor and Glen Berger. Directed by Taymor. Dance and aerial choreography, Daniel Ezralow; lighting, Donald Holder; costumes, Eiko Ishioka; sound, Jonathan Deans; projections, Kyle Cooper; aerial design, Scott Rogers; music direction, Kimberly Grigsby. With Isabel Keating, Michael Mulheren. About 2 hours 50 minutes. At Foxwoods Theatre, 213 W. 42nd St., New York. Visit or call 877-250-2929.

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