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How I Learned to Spell Spider-Man (and Watched a Groundbreaking Show in the Process)

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This past Tuesday, Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark officially opened at the Foxwoods Theater, after trials and tribulations that would have sent a lesser show packing. But Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark is not your typical NY Broadway musical; it's a fantastic spectacle that makes one rethink the American show, reconnect with a theater tradition we may have long turned our back on (perhaps dismissing it as "touristy") and can teach a lesson or two in understanding the concept of successful, mass entertainment.

Lets set aside all the negative press the previous production received, the incidents and accidents incurred and the injuries caused. I never saw the first version of Spider-Man and I could only come from a place of hearsay and speculation. But this latest incarnation -- complete with insightful references to Greek mythology, aerial stunts (choreographed by Daniel Ezralow) worthy of the latest Cirque de Soleil production, songs (by Bono and The Edge) that make a rock concert seem like a kindergarten singalong, and a leading man who bears a striking resemblance to hottie-of-the-moment James Franco -- is, well, DIVINE.

It takes a lot to get a jaded New Yorker like me excited. I'm no comic book fan and seriously, the thought of sitting for two hours in a crowded theater surrounded by the kind of audiences who need to be told in advance not to unwrap their candy during the performance makes me claustrophobically nauseous. Take into account that Broadway theaters these days have chairs that make your average airplane middle seat in coach seem like a royal throne and2011-06-16-T.V.CarpioasArachneinSPIDERMANTurnOffTheDarkphotocreditJacobCohl.jpg you can understand my anxiety. Did I mention I'm also petrified of spiders? But once the music came on, Arachne (T. V. Carpio) descended through her enticing web and Peter Parker (Reeve Carney) entered the stage, I couldn't stop giggling with joy, like a little girl.

Trying to put me down, some have said that I'm not a critic, rather a promoter. I take that as the kindest of compliments. I believe life is too short to spend it writing about movies that are boring, music that doesn't excite and art projects that aren't revolutionary. In the time it would take me to write about a blah film, I could be watching another two or three and perhaps find a gem among them.

So in all honesty, when my dear friend, colleague, and Overrated author Mark Juddery offered to take me as his plus one to a preview performance of Spider-Man, I went more for the company and the Indian dinner before, than for the show. But with its stunning costumes (by Eiko Ishioka), beautifully touching songs, off-beat sets straight out of the pages of comic books (by George Tsypin) and larger-than-life actors and stuntmen, Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark turned into an extravaganza of entertainment that keeps on playing in my mind. Don't even get me started on The Sinister Six -- that would require a whole other piece to do it justice.

The last time I remember risking whiplash to catch all the aerial stunts and grabbing my seat mate's arm so much (we had to buy arnica gel for his bruises after the show) was ... 2011-06-16-SpiderMan3.jpg actually, I can't remember ever feeling this way! But I can remember the last time I felt excited about a show, and that was back as a teenager when I watched Cirque de Soleil for the first time at the Santa Monica Pier, from a seat practically on the circus stage.

There is definitely something to be said for perfectly choreographed aerial stunts, actors whizzing by right above one's head, the lights flashing brightly on the audience and dramatic inflections of the orchestra punctuating it all. The word I'm looking for here is extraordinary.

Oh, and about the spelling of this superhero's name: Spider-Man creator Stan Lee wrote on Twitter in early 2010 "Spidey's official name has a hyphen-- 'Spider-Man'. Know why? When I first dreamed him up I didn't want anyone confusing him with Superman!" And then Lee added, facetiously "It's tough being perfect. A missing hyphen can ruin my day..."

All images by Jacob Cohl ©2011, used with permission