Thank You, George Santos, For Reminding Me I Willingly Saw 'Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark'
Keeping track of actual US Congress member George Santos's many, many lies is almost a full-time activity. We don't know how he managed back when his staff was probably just him speaking different voices into a cell phone. Friday, Bloomberg revealed the latest in his web (ha!) of deceit: Santos told potential donors in 2021 that he was a producer on Broadway's Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.
OK, I understand that not everyone shares my interest in Broadway musicals, so I should clarify that yes, there was in fact a musical called Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, and yes, seriously, for real, that was its actual title. No, it was not a parody of a bad musical within a TV series or even a fictional one I might actually enjoy, like the Captain America musical from the "Hawkeye" TV show.
No, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark was real, and it was a spectacular failure.
Obviously, Santos was not a producer of the disastrous musical, which was set to premiere in 2010 when he was 22. That's awfully young for a Broadway producer but when you're a pineapple heiress, you tend to have money to throw around on theatrical abominations. This is all easily checked. Santos's name doesn't appear on any Playbills, even if most patrons burned them immediately after seeing the show. The lead producer, Michael Cohl, denies Santos's involvement, and you think he'd have remembered meeting the Queen of England.
I can't begin to imagine why Santos would associate himself with one of Broadway's biggest bombs. Spider-Man: Turn Off The Darklost almost $60 million dollars and didn't just kill the careers of those involved, it damn well almost killed cast members through dangerous technical mishaps. Actor Natalie Mendoza suffered a concussion during the first preview performance. During the December 20, 2010 performance, actor Christopher Tierney plummeted 30 feet, suffering a fractured skull and shoulder blade as well as four broken ribs and three broken vertebrae.
We have no reason to believe Santos has even seen Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark; however, I was there for the first horrific preview performance in November 2010. I'm a fan of comic books, people in tights, and the music of U2. (Bono and the Edge composed the score, and unlike Santos, the Edge actually invested in the show — a bigger waste of time and money than when I continued buying Spider-Man comics during the 1990s.)
The original plan was that my friend Robert would fly up from Georgia to see the show with me for his birthday, but our performance was postponed because of assorted technical issues, which I can safely assume were never fully addressed. We wound up seeing The Addams Family musical instead. Now, that was fun. Here's a clip so you can see something good before I assault your eyes with more madness.
My friend Mark, who lives in Washington, DC, joined me for the delayed preview show. It's hard to describe what happened. "Bad" seems too banal and more appropriate for a production that meets some basic expectations of theatrical competence. This wasn't just a sloppy preview. It was an extended tech rehearsal with a paying audience present. The stage manager literally called "stop" and "hold" multiple times during the show, which was honestly a welcome reprieve from what we were seeing. I tried calling "stop" and "hold" a few times but they kept going on.
Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark was envisioned as an ambitious theatrical spectacle where Spider-Man would swing through the theatre above the audience while fighting the Green Goblin on his glider. Instead, overhead stage wires dropped on the audience (unfortunately, no falling equipment put me out of my misery) and scenery appeared on stage missing key elements. After Mendoza finished her big number, "Rise Above," an apparent wire malfunction left her suspended over the crowd for almost 10 minutes.
Like the misguided family in a horror movie, Mark and I just couldn't leave this haunted house. Spider-Man was stuck in mid-air and required stage hands to rescue him. The Green Goblin vamped on the piano for a while as stage crew fixed the equipment necessary to move on to the next scene.
In fairness, if everything had gone technically well, the production would've still been stuck with a book that lacked plot, narrative, and general coherence. A "Geek Chorus" (I know) appeared randomly to explain the story to us but only managed to confuse things even further.
The music and lyrics were, well, early 21st Century U2. I think 13-year-old me was expecting Spider-Man Still Hasn't Found What He's Looking For.
Thanks to all the delays, the production dragged on almost three-and-half hours. We stuck it out, though, for no reason I can justify. I think it's because of the "Deeply Furious" number, which is what possibly cost director Julie Taymor her job. It's insane and I love it. "Is she singing about shoes?" Mark asked. "Damn right," I said.
"Deeply Furious" didn't survive the revamped version of the show, less than promisingly known as Spider-Man 2.0. Once Taymor was canned, the producers, who didn't include George Santos, valiantly tried to deliver a show that was less of an unhinged fever dream. The critical consensus was that it was better but still not very good. They should've kept the song about the evil spider goddess who envies a human woman's ability to wear shoes. I'm tearing up just thinking about the song again.
Fun bit of trivia: Rightwing pundit Glenn Beck was an early champion of the show after seeing the early previews several times like it was Rocky Horror with just the audience participation and no movie. Maybe he identified with the Green Goblin.
So, if George Santos was ever a Broadway producer, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark would've been his very successful Springtime for Hitler scam. But none of the actual producers in this very real flop flew off to Rio. They just hugged their accountants and wept.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."