The Spider Queen
Written by Bryan Jager
Fringe Art Space • Orlando, Florida • October 20, 2023
Reviewed by Carl F. Gauze
There are Broadway flops, and then there are Broadway FLOPS. This musical version of Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark seemingly had all the stars aligned, except maybe one or two small issues, like, say… gravity? After all, Julie Taymor, (Kelly Mauro) had previously knocked one out of the park with the Disney based musical version of Lion King. Next she went even bigger and tackled Stan Lee’s long running hit cartoon super hero as the basis for Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. It was a huge project, and she called in Glen Berger (Joseph A. Carrier) to co-write it with her. This gig is a major commission for him, and a major risk as well. As with any theater piece, it’s hard to tell which small show might go big, and what big show might face plant. But here the budget spiraled up to NASA levels with a total production cost topping $80 million, and the writer doesn’t see a dime until the show actually opens. It’s not clear if the music was the problem, or the story line, or the egos. After all, Bono and The Edge wrote the music, and I suspect they were paid up front. Plus, they could still tour even if this turkey drowns, whereas Berger lost his wife and family over this big smoking hole in the ground.
The critics trashed the original show in previews, and then there were the injuries and near-death experiences of the actors. The show and multiple careers ended, but this entertaining disaster story flows through a cluttered and dark backstage space. The lighting is moody and the music better than the original. Berger is hung out to dry, and it’s hard to say if he’s a bad writer or his material was problematic. Initially the gig was a plum assignment, but one with a very large pit, and that pit was Julie Taymor. She bloviates and spews all the stage craft buzzwords to no avail. With high concepts to the right of him and drooping tropes to the right of him of him, Berger soldiers on, writing and rewriting and attempting to serve three masters at once. In the saddest scene, Berger’s wife calls and begs him to come home. He can’t, he’s in too deep and his career is on the line. That’s true for Julie Taymor as well, but she got a bigger advance. For a show about the biggest disaster on Broadway, it’s an entertaining and zippy production that made more money in this Fringe Art Space production than the New York musical. Now THAT’s Entertainment! ◼