Backstage at the most expensive show on Broadway, it feels like the last few days of summer camp. The latest revamped iteration of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" opens officially on Tuesday night. At the Foxwoods Theatre, the technicians, actors and crew members have adopted the kind of can-do attitude and communal spirit usually reserved for "Kumbaya" sing alongs around a campfire. The show re-opened in previews on May 12.
"When I come in every morning, I just count my blessings that I’m involved," said Matthew James Thomas, who is the alternate for the role of Peter Parker should anything happen to Reeve Carney. (Thomas also plays the lead twice a week.) "It’s like NASA. The different parts of that auditorium are all buzzing, all day long."
The constant activity on the set of "Spider-Man" is a relief for the cast and crew after what the troubled $70 million musical has been through in the past year and a half. The musical, Julie Taymor’s brainchild with a score by U2’s Bono and the Edge, was initially scheduled to open to the public in February 2010. After postponing the show’s opening five times after actors were injured and the set failed to pass safety inspections, the producers finally announced in March that they were delaying the official opening of "Spider-Man" until June 14. The producers announced that Philip William McKinley would take over the day-to-day direction of what is now being called unofficially "Spider-Man 2.0." (Taymor, who declined a comment for this story, remains the director in name only.)
In the three weeks the cast and crew of "Spider-Man" took to rethink the production, the new creative team said it had made some serious changes to the show. Four new flight maneuvers have been added to the already challenging 38 aerial stunts. Roles for two of the show’s main characters — the Green Goblin and Arachne — have also been drastically re-written. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who was recruited to help rewrite the musical in March with the author of the show's original book, Glen Berger.
Sitting in the Foxwoods Theatre looking invigorated despite an around-the-clock work schedule, Aguirre-Sacasa said the new script was funnier than the old one and raised the emotional stakes of the relationships onstage.
"There were so many incredible moments of spectacle and of real theatrical beauty in the first iteration of the show," he said, adding the challenge was to preserve those moments "in a context where the story unfolded more organically and with more investment in the characters."
Actress T.V. Carpio (pictured right) took over the role of Arachne in January for Natalie Mendoza after Mendoza suffered a concussion playing the part. Ticketbuyers who saw "Spider-Man" in its earlier incarnation knew Arachne as a villainous figure with a major role, who Taymor paid special attention to in the musical. When the show re-opens in previews on Thursday, they’ll see less of Arachne onstage and when they do, Carpio will be playing more guardian angel than enemy to Peter Parker.
"I still get to sing some of the most beautiful songs in the show," Carpio said between rehearsals with a tone of cheerful resignation. Carpio said she got involved with the production when she heard about it at Julie Taymor’s house during a Thanksgiving meal in 2006. "I'm just excited to just be onstage."
Patrick Page, who plays the Green Goblin, said he, too, was excited to learn some new lines.
"The villain always has the best laugh lines and very frequently has the best songs in a musical," Page said, adding that some lines he had spoken as ad libs during rehearsals had made their way into the script.
Despite the positive take the cast has on the changes to the show, "Spider-Man" has a long way to go to make up for all the negative publicity it’s gotten so far. The producers have reportedly lost millions so far and the musical has broken records for the number of preview performances it has had. Theater critics widely panned the show in February. The stakes are high to come through with a crowd-pleasing comeback instead of going down in the history books as Broadway's most expensive flop.