Reeve Carney hasn’t had the easiest time as Broadway’s Peter Parker in “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” The Julie Taymor-directed “version 1.0” of the show never actually left previews, with a veritable tidal wave of negative criticisms driving the show into re-writes. However, Carney has stuck with it throughout, and he’s feeling the payoff now: The new book is a success, and “Turn Off the Dark” has, against all odds, been turned into a quality Broadway musical.
Carney admitted in a recent interview with Comic Book Resources that the negative stuff never really got to him, largely because he expected it. That doesn’t mean he thought the show was bad, though. Rather, he recognizes that critics have a job to do, just like everyone else.
“When I knew the critics were coming, I didn’t expect them to write anything nice,” Carney said. “My job in this show is to play Peter Parker, and their job is to play the part of the critic. So the negative things never offended me, because I didn’t expect them to say anything positive.
“They’re kind of like actors,” Carney continued. “My job is to sell the show and to make the show as exciting and as believable as possible for the audience, and their job is to sell newspapers, sell magazines, and I don’t fault them for that at all. When they were in the audience, though, I was excited to have them there as human beings, just people there to enjoy a performance.”
“Turn Off the Dark” went through some big changes after Taymor, the director and co-writer, departed earlier this year. Critics were in an uproar during the show’s preview run over certain elements, including the new-to-the-show character, Arachne. While Carney maintains that the heart of the show is still Taymor’s vision, he admits that the new management was key in tightening things up.
“Phil McKinley came in as what they call a creative consultant,” Carney explained. “When he was here, Julie wasn’t here, so Phil was our director for the new version of the show. What he did…a lot of it was editing, a lot of it was working with the actors under more of a microscope. I guess really tearing apart the acting and figuring out how he wanted to approach it, and then the script was rewritten.
“Some of the major moments in the show are just set up a lot better,” Carney assured. “For instance, when Spider-Man first appears, there’s a moment, a song I sing called ‘Rise Above’ that precedes it. That moment is set up so much better now, and more clearly with the scene that precedes it. With the way that the song ends, it makes it much easier for the audience to connect Peter Parker with Spider-Man.
“I’d say the biggest change in this 2.0 version was focusing intently on the language, because it’s such a large house and there’s so much going on visually that the audience has to hear everything we’re seeing,” Carney said, “whether that means you have to say it a few times or you just have to say it in the right space or loud enough or whatever, they just have to hear it. And that’s what I think has been improved the most in this version, the audience is really hearing the story now.”
One element that has managed to stick around is the spectacle. “Turn Off the Dark” is the Broadway equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster. The sets, the costumes, the action sequences — complete with elaborate wire work and stunt performers — it’s all jaw-dropping. Carney appreciates that “Turn Off the Dark” represents a form of “blockbuster theatre.”
“The spectacle definitely makes it more challenging for the actors, but I think that’s a great challenge,” Carney said of the big-budget production values. “It teaches you a lot. Everything has to be slightly bigger and more clear.
“I think the Coen Brothers said this in an acceptance speech, and I think this is how the whole company feels: They said they wanted to thank Hollywood for continuing to let them play in their corner of the sandbox,” Carney recalled. “That’s how I feel. I feel like we are just one corner of the sandbox known as Broadway, and I’m really honored to be a part of that.”
The “Turn Off the Dark” team has definitely built its own unique sandcastle. In spite of the early stumbles of version 1.0, great strides have been made in building a better telling of the Spider-Man origin story. Carney and his fellow cast members are certainly pleased.
“To me, we’ve come to a great place,” he said. “Every project has its own road to success. Our road to success happened to involve Julie Taymor clearly as the visionary director and creator of the show, and then Phil McKinley and our two book writers coming in to put on the final touches. This version of the show, in my opinion, kept the core of Julie’s imagination and her most brilliant concepts for storytelling. And I think [version 2.0] just streamlined the other parts that were maybe a little more confusing.
“Julie herself knew that she wasn’t finished, she just didn’t quite have the time to…whatever happened, I don’t know exactly how everything went down,” Carney admitted. “But I do know that she was aware of the fact that 1.0 or whatever you want to call it wasn’t exactly finished. So it was a work in progress; a living, breathing work in progress. I guess we’ll never know what 1.0 would’ve been, but I’m thrilled with where 2.0 has landed us.”