By Elysa Gardner, USA TODAY
NEW YORK - That deep sigh of relief you hear over Times Square marks the safe arrival of a dangerously overdue Broadway baby.
After myriad delays and hiccups, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (*** out of four) opened Tuesday, with no attendant reports of pigs flying or Hades freezing over. And it looks as if this $75 million underdog might just make it.
But let's qualify that slightly: The musical officially unveiled at the Foxwoods Theatre is Spider-Man "2.0" ? not to be confused with the "1.0" version, prematurely greeted in February with some of the most savage reviews in recent memory.
That earlier incarnation, like it or loathe it, had the courage of its ambitions. Original director/co-librettist Julie Taymor and writing partner Glen Berger asked, with a refreshing lack of cynicism, that we join them on a ride that was at times bumpy but fueled throughout by an unreserved passion that could be touching and even thrilling.
Essential elements of that production remain, along with the flying feats and other high-tech visuals. But the new Spider-Man is cuter and more cautious than its predecessor, more in line with the winking musical adaptations of famous films and brands that have lined the theater district in recent years. Clearly, producers heeded the critics and fans who hoped to see the title character represented more as he'd been in comic books and movies.
Specifically, that meant streamlining the story to eliminate a love triangle involving the spider-woman Arachne, who in 1.0 emerged as both protector and nemesis to Spider-Man/Peter Parker and rival to Mary Jane, Peter's girlfriend. The Arachne of 2.0 is a simpler, sweeter creature; the antagonist is now scientist Norm Osborn's deranged alter ego, the Green Goblin, who views Peter/Spidey as his wayward son.
That paternal dynamic lurked in 1.0, but in the new text, tweaked by Berger and Marvel Comics writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, it's scrawled in bold-faced letters, as obvious as some of the hokey jokes added to lighten Taymor's operatic tone. Luckily, Patrick Page, the veteran actor who plays Osborn and the Goblin, is an exuberantly entertaining villain; Reeve Carney, the less experienced leading man, conveys a youthful earnestness and burgeoning confidence that make him a compelling foil.
The new Spider-Man is more of an overt crowd-pleaser, but its most affecting features reflect the serious, arty aspirations of the original. Composer/lyricists Bono and The Edge have added one campy number, Goblin's A Freak Like Me, but the most memorable songs offer the same emotional and melodic sweep that distinguishes their work in U2.
It's right after one such tune, the soaring ballad Rise Above, that Spider-Man first appears. As distinctly Edge-like guitars chime, dancers costumed as the superhero leap about like giddy children discovering a new trick.
At such moments, Spider-Man doesn't need technology or gadgetry to take flight.