I have never seen a Spider-Man film in its entirety in my entire life. Three franchises and a failed Broadway play were decidedly not enough to get me in the theater, but on a Saturday night in the ’92, I spent precious pre-gaming time watching “Spider-Man: Turn Up the Light.”

The title makes reference to the infamous Broadway production “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” in which several cast members received life-threatening injuries trying to perform their spidery stunts. The title sets the tone for the rest of the play, which is in many ways a spite project aimed to poke fun at every Spider-Man production before it. Despite never seeing a Spider-Man movie, I almost intuitively knew every reference. That doesn’t mean I always found them funny.

The most out-there element of the play, sprawling in so many different directions, was the use of hand puppets, meant to downplay any risky action scenes and also exaggerate some already larger-than-life key characters. Mary Jane (Robin Waterman ’19), for example, a generally one-note, hot girl-next-door gained new dimension as a full-time hand puppet with mildly violent tendencies. Whenever a live-action character changed into their masked alter-ego, the puppet came out of the bag. To the credit of the actors and the costume designers, these puppets merged generally seamlessly into the rest of the play, without much awkward transitioning. The only off-putting part was how much Green Goblin’s design looked like a cross between a Mexican luchador and the Gimp from Pulp Fiction.

Along with three student-written songs, the play featured three Imagine Dragons songs incorporated semi-clumsily into the plot. The highlights of the soundtrack included the duet between Peter Parker (Isaac Jacobs ’20) and Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Griffin Barich ’20) to “Radioactive” as they transformed into their felt alter-egos. The singing was perfect, and performed with just enough winking irony not to feel too heavy in an otherwise feather-light production. It helped that the “big reveal” looked more like something out of Sesame Street (or more accurately, Avenue Q) than a radioactive monstrosity.

Overall, the musical numbers instilled life into a show that sometimes fell flat with the occasional un-landed joke. Not to say that I didn’t find parts of “Turn Up the Light” really, really funny. The Sandman (Jordan Witzel ’19) made a lasting impression on me despite only having two lines, as did most of the lesser villains. But there were still plenty of jokes that didn’t land well. At one point, Peter Parker and Mysterio both burst through a banner labeled “the Fourth Wall,” a joke I both recognized to be self-aware and still cringed at in spite of that knowledge. Another time, Mary Jane’s wig fell off and I genuinely could not tell if it had been scripted. This mixed reaction summed up most of the play for me, edging the line between “bad on purpose” and just plain bad. It was campy, it was over the top, and it actively aimed for it. At some points, intent was not a strong enough excuse.

Another giveaway of lackluster writing is throwaway pop culture references, the creative equivalent of a politician shouting the name of whatever city they’re in to get applause. I don’t need to go to a play about Spider-Man to hear about the death of the print journalism industry; I write for The Argus. Similarly, I could be watching the next “Hamilton,” but the moment a character makes a stale line about Kanye West’s narcissism, I’m gone. You are never going to be the first person to make that Kanye joke, so please, everyone, stop trying.

The exception to the pop culture rule would be the brief but rewarding cameo from the Avengers, because any Marvel-inspired production will ultimately have the franchise looming behind them anyway. Finding out that The Daily Bugle had accidentally released the Hulk’s sex tape was a shining example of a thoughtful, semi-relevant pop culture reference, while still being irreverent enough to fit the rest of the play.

Adding puppets also allowed the production to rely perhaps too heavily on visual gags. An entire scene revolves around Peter Parker passionately making out with a felt-covered Mary Jane, which might have been gratuitous for anyone not specifically into human-puppet relations. So, most people. On the other hand, using puppets in fight scenes was a decidedly clever move and probably saved a lot of staging in rehearsal.

The scene-stealer, however, had to be Mysterio, played by Dimitri Fulconis ’20 (Dimitri happens to live on my hall but this entire time I had no idea he was capable of such musical villainy). Mysterio is a laughing stock of the masked vigilante world, a failed actor turned illusionist (magician), taking the form of a light-up goldfish bowl wearing a cape. Mysterio becomes the main antagonist once he defeats Green Goblin and assembles his laser tag team of like-minded villains in what might be the greatest musical number of the play. Mysterio is both comedic relief and diabolical drama, and shows how great the rest of the play could have been if it had decided on a consistent tone.

Despite some shortcomings in the script, the performances were consistently strong. Almost every actor was double-cast except for Jacobs, a move that underlined the “alter-ego” motif and also let the actors explore their comedic range. Witzel gets a second pat on the back for playing multiple characters that just scream things, and finding a new comedic note each time. I also commend Connor Aberle ’19 for managing to hit all of his notes in the same gravelly voice as the crotchety journalist J. Jonah Jameson.

Did I enjoy “Spider-Man: Turn Up the Light?” Ultimately, yes. It’s an entertaining play not meant to be taken seriously by any degree. Had it found its center, it could have been a considerably funnier play. Did it encourage me to try any other Spider-Man media? Not unless the Avengers are involved.


“Spider-Man: Turn Up The Light” was written by Will McGhee ’17, directed by Elizaveta Kravchenko ’19, and stage managed by Erin Hussey ’20 and Maya Dorn ’19. 

  • Why so much hate

    “I spent precious pre-gaming time” : That actually legitimates your review, well done. Sounds like you really take your job seriously. You seem to like sarcasm so here ya go.
    I think your review is even lower than subpar.
    You are hating on a hard working crew. And your point is not clear. You’re missing so many points! Overall this is a bad review.
    Also I’m sorry, but trying to review a play that references a movie you haven’t seen makes me think that your opinion should have been much more nuanced.

  • Daniel Gordon

    I’m gonna be honest. I think this is a bad review. Full disclosure, I worked on the show, so to that end I won’t comment on the opinions you hold (though admittedly I disagree at many points). And honestly, the article is right in some places. for instance, even though you’ve never seen a spider man movie, the play should have appealed to you, which it didn’t. And there are perhaps parts where the pop culture references become too much (I wasn’t a fan of the Kanye reference either). However, there are points where I feel it’s poorly written. For instance:

    a) You do not once mention tech. This was a musical that had as large of a behind the scenes team as it did actors. You rarely, if at all, mention your opinion of the set, lighting, or live band. You don’t say positives or negatives, you just don’t say anything at all.

    b) You phrase many of your positives as negatives. Nearly every positive you bring up is shrouded in sarcasm which makes me question what you mean. for instance, “using puppets in fight scenes was a decidedly clever move and probably saved a lot of staging in rehearsal” your phrasing makes the staging sound lazy, which is still a valid opinion. However, in a review views should be clear, either “this was good” or “this was bad”. In many places, including this one, you blur the line, clouding your argument.

    c) That opening line. i’m sorry, you’d rather be pregaming than watching a show? Congrats for casually referencing drinking in an Argus article. It comes across as if you’re a spoiled child. If you’d rather get drunk, then do that. Don’t make such a negative statement before you express your opinion. It’s bad writing.

    I could probably go on more, but I think my opinion’s clear. Write better aricles.

  • Johnny Hayes

    Welp. There is some negativity here. Allow me to talk about the other side.

    There’s something to be said about someone who can write as well as you do. You were able to take something as simple as a review and make it enjoyable to go through. Your wit clearly shines through here, and it’s not easy to make people laugh out loud through writing. That’s commendable in of itself.

    Combine that with the clear voice of the review, then (opinions on the show set aside), you’re incredibly good at what you do.

    Should you have mentioned the set or the sound? Eh. There wasn’t much to speak on for that. The set was good but basic, the band was horrible (although imagine dragons is not an easy set to live up to), and the lighting transitions were terribly slow. They really didn’t serve to impact the audience, so they definitely don’t warrant the time.

    All in all, I look forward to reading more from you! Great work!

    • Daniel Gordon

      With respect, some thoughts:

      The technical side of theater is an enormous part of what goes in to the process. It helps shape the world the audience lives in. It’s part of the responsibility of the reviewer to at least comment on it. If you dislike the band, or didn’t find the set significant, those are perfectly valid opinions to have, and they should be shared. But if you don’t talk about them at all, you aren’t portraying a full picture of the show’s core experience. These things deserve to at least be touched upon

      Also, we seem to differ on perceiving the article as clear. Humor aside, I found that the sarcasm present in the article hindered rather than helped its core message. By the end of the review I honestly couldn’t tell whether the writer liked the show or not. As I’ve previously touched upon, her sarcasm made it unclear as to whether she genuinely liked an aspect of the show, or if she was just poking fun at it. It’s very clear she finds the experience a mixed bag, but sometimes I just can’t figure out where she stood on different aspects of the performance. Perhaps this could have been rectified with an ending summary, but the ending presented didn’t really touch on past points at all. A reader should have a clear image of the shows strengths and flaws by the time they finish reading, which I at least did not have.

  • Argus Luvr

    I read this piece immediately after it came out a couple days ago, and really liked it. I think I enjoyed the show much more than the author, considering the fact that I found Mary Jane’s wig falling off during that vigorous dance number the pinnacle of hilarity, and I also was very much a fan of the passionate puppet make-out scene. It was definitely my favorite show that I’ve seen since coming to Wes. Despite our differences in overall opinion, I still really liked reading the review, and I found that the only major difference between the author’s and my opinion stems from a different appreciation for the show’s comedic actions. And that’s okay. A few minutes ago, I was casually stalking Argus articles, and I saw that a couple of comments had accumulated on this article, so naturally I returned to the piece and read them. And I just want to say that no matter whether you agree with the opinion behind the piece or not, or whether the author addressed tech and sound and design properly or not, this in the end was a well-written review. I don’t think saying the author needs to write better articles really cuts it, and I do think her point is clear: the musical is ultimately funny, but it could be funnier, and it looses some momentum with campy humor. I don’t necessarily fully agree, but I respect the author’s opinion, and I think it’s important that we don’t say a review is “bad” because it doesn’t align with what we think it should say.