The Gaslight Theatre's Spider-Guy may not be the most expensive-high-tech marvel that the Broadway production, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, is. Then again, no cast or crew member was seriously injured, unlike the Broadway extravaganza's multiple mishaps that plagued its rocky road to production. Take that, Julie Taymor. You ain't got nothing on writer/director Peter Van Slyke and scenic designer Tom Benson of Gaslight renown.
In fact, Spider-Guy is, like all Gaslight productions, proudly low-tech, preferring to depend on clever invention rather than flashy folderol. Although, the group does manage some pretty neat semi-flying feats for the lowly, nerdy human with arachnid-like web-spinning powers (and a pretty cool costume to boot).
Spider-Guy pretty much follows the Gaslight's tried-and-true formula for frothy entertainment: good guys trying to save the community from power-hungry bad guys; young folks pining for each other and struggling to be noticed; unlikely heroes, humble in their exploits; and musical numbers consisting of well-known songs given generous rewrites to fit the story's needs. Then this energetically performed package is tied up with silly string and presented to an adoring audience that cheers for the good guys and boos the bad while having a raucous good time.
Spider-Guy has it all.
The Gaslight show "borrows" heavily from the Marvel Comics stories and subsequent films and musical, but the story is revised to accommodate the Gaslight's entertainment style and limitations of stage size and cast. (And probably to sidestep any copywriting concerns.)
Here, very un-cool community college student Billy Baker (Jake Chapman) has his eye on classmate Mary Lou Peterson (Tarreyn Van Slyke), while E. Edward Eagleton Jr. (Jacob Brown) and his über-perky girlfriend, Mackenzie Maxwell (Janee Page) scoff at the science geeks. Instructor Dr. Cornelius Crocodilius (Mike Yarema) is showing off the snazzy molecular activator machine, which, he warns, is potentially dangerous. Great care must be taken in its presence. Absolutely no button must be pushed. When the others leave the classroom, Billy stays behind and, wouldn't you know, accidentally activates the machine, which zaps a spider, turning it into a huge, ugly thing that bites Billy. Billy doesn't know it yet—although he feels like he's coming down with some kind of bug—but some of the super-spider's traits now are his, and they are about to become very useful.
That's because Mathias Maxwell (Todd Thompson), who is the CEO of MaxCorp, has determined that he wants Dr. Crocodilius' machine. Experimenting with his own questionable technology, he is transformed into the Green Gremlin, who terrorizes the community. (I suppose it is more theatrical—not to mention more fun—to have someone with a snazzy, shimmery costume attempting to seize all control instead of a CEO in a business suit.) Anyway, Billy Baker/Spider-Guy has his work cut out for him as he tries to subdue the Gremlin and save Center City, especially since the Gremlin has transformed Dr. Crocodilius into an evil-doer with his mutating device. Now known as Doc Croc, the once good doctor also presents a fun theatrical sight in a cool croc costume, with abbreviated croc arms and a pretty amazing tail.
Things get a little tense and the plot thickens predictably, but you can always count on the good guys to come through in a Gaslight show, and there's no exception here. (I haven't spoiled it for you, have I?)
Of course, the story is mostly an excuse for the Gaslight regulars to engage in much mugging, singing, dancing and wink-wink punning. And the crew here excels.
Brown gives us a way-fun rendition of a song celebrating himself, "Cool Jerk." Thompson's Gremlin is not only gleefully green, but sounds more than a bit like a Viva Las Vegas Elvis when he sings "I Got My Mojo Working." Longtime Gaslighter David Orley doesn't have to work too hard in this show, but still manages to utilize a number of accents, none of which sounds like what one would hear in Center City. Heather Stricker has a lot of fun with the naughty vixen Velma Ventura, and Craig Howard as Uncle Gus shows he's got some bounce left in his step. Speaking of bounce, a scene where the group is supposed to be riding a train is a hilarious low-tech crowd pleaser.
Van Slyke and Chapman are the precious couple of young'uns who find each other at last. As always, Chapman brings a boundless energy and enthusiasm to his performance. And he seemingly never tires of reminding the audience that "with great strength comes great accountability."
Linda Ackermann's musical direction is executed well by the band, consisting of blues-pianist-about-town Lisa Otey, bassist Mike Hebert, and drummer Jon Westfall. Renee Clouthier's costumes are fun, and Brian Gawne's sound and David Darland's lighting enhance our experience greatly.
Of course, things do not end with the curtain call. No shortage of entertainment bang-for-the-buck here. After a short break, there is another show, a variety-type shindig which, for this run, is a version of The Gong Show. The actors shed their Spider-Guy personas and try to win our votes with acts that range from the sublimely ridiculous to the ridiculously sublime. The men's version of "Y.M.C.A." seemed to be the crowd favorite, but I thought Stricker, Page and Van Slyke as women of a mature age, shall we say, totally rocked "I Will Survive." There was a whole lot of booty bouncing going on.
No, there is no high-brow stuff here. But there is very well done tongue-in-cheek entertainment for ages 5 to infinity. Go. Take Grandpa and the kids. You'll be a hero.