Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark - Sets Review

It's strange to say this, but the sets for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark were one of the best things about the entire production.
Aerial fabric acrobats from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
The stage itself is incredibly complex. It is outfitted with conveyor belts and sections that raise and lower, going below the stage. Ramps can be raised and lowered. There are dozens of large set pieces that move and shift throughout the show.

But, of course, the action isn't all on the stage. Really, the action takes place around the entire theater. There are various access doors, landing platforms, and the wires (for webswinging stunts) throughout the entire theater. This makes watching the production an immersive experience. Your attention is constantly being drawn away from the stage and to various locations throughout the theater. The crowd gets showered with webbing. Spider-Man runs through the aisles, pausing to give a few fist bumps to some eager young fans. 
Norman's lab (concept art)
The first sequence with Arachne features some aerial fabric acrobats actually weaving a massive tapestry as horizontal cloth shoots between the carefully timed acrobats. The result is a stunning visual that really sets the tone for the show - this is going to be a no-holds barred experience.

In a "normal scene" such as Peter's classroom or inside Peter's house the walls and set pieces all are done in a hand-drawn, abstract comic book style full of distorted proportions and impossible angles. At first they appear to be two dimensional. That is, until characters actually interact with them, like sitting down on a couch that you could swear was just a flat wooden stand up. Paying homage to the medium of the source material only earns brownie points with me. But more than that, the sets just seem to work. They set the audience's expectations for the show - a sheer fantasy thrill ride. The sets say, "In this world, the fantastic is possible." 

Empire State Building
from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
The set that is perhaps the most stunning is the Chrysler Building set. This perspective-twisting set features an absolutely massive Chrysler Building. But it's not standing upright - instead, it's raised at an angle. The wall behind it becomes the street below, complete with moving cars. This puts the audience at the perspective of being above New York in the air looking down upon the city. The Spider-Man action that ensues then showcases him wallcrawling on the Chrysler Building and webswinging around.

The Spider-Man dance sequence
Another brilliant set is featured during the song, "Anywhere but here." Peter and Mary Jane walk home from school together and as they go, this incredibly complex series of two dimensional houses are quickly and smartly folded, unfolded, and refolded. At one point, the houses are arranged as to give the perspective of looking down a long street (biggest houses closer). At another point, the houses are refolded to make it appear that MJ and Peter are standing very close to a row of houses. After the houses had been refolded about 20 times, I was stunned when they opened the doors on two of the houses and stepped into the unfolding interiors of their houses, complete with actors playing Uncle Ben, Aunt May, and Mary Jane's father in additional to various set pieces! I know I can't describe it with enough to detail to convey how complicated this set piece. The final revelation of the house interiors is something akin to a magic trick. You just scratch your head and say, "How did they do that?" 

Projected image on multiple moving screens
The show uses a series of projectors to enhances the sets as well. When this is combined with moving set pieces this sometimes makes it difficult to tell what is real and what is projected. The perfect example of this is the Spider-Men dance number. The scene starts out with one Spider-Man on stage, going through a dance routine. Behind him, multiple long vertical screens are being projected on as they move and slide around the stage. Then, from behind one is revealed a Spider-Man. At first I thought it was merely being projected until he steps forward and starts dancing as well. This is repeated until the stage is filled with Spider-Men. It's a mesmerizing scene and it uses the projector technology almost as a slight-of-hand trick on the audience. 

Just the sheer diversity and scope of the different sets is impressive. The show's designers didn't go for the quick, simple or easy in most cases. They pushed the envelope at every turn and the result is a visual candy store. 

1LR REVIEW - 18 out of 20! It's a Solid Hit!

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