Wednesday, June 23, 2021

At This Performance: Matthew James Thomas in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

At This Performance:
Matthew James Thomas in
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Given Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark's injury record and notoriously difficult preview period, it should not have been a surprise that the second time we saw the show (don't judge), Matthew James Thomas was on for Reeve Carney in the title role. Still, it was a bit of unexpected news, because even though Thomas was the alternate, he was not scheduled for that particular performance. But we thought, "What the heck? Why not?" After all, the show (and its myriad of potential changes) was what we were there to see. Seeing a different take on the role is usually an interesting proposition. Let's see what this young man had!

Like Carney, at this point in the genesis of the musical, a lot of Thomas' work was about hitting marks, flying around without hitting the walls or the floor, and dodging various pieces of scenery and decked out cast members. And again, as with Carney, he handled all of that injury-free and with finesse. Could Mr. Thomas do all of that and still find room in his performance to find some depth and emotion so as to not get lost in all of the pageantry?  Mr. Carney could. And so did this wonder-alternate.

For me the devil is in the details. First up, was the insane bullying his character, Peter, had to withstand. He was sensitive and sympathetic. Next, was his evolution as a suitor for Mary Jane (Jennifer Damiano) believable? Could we see the relationship grow from awkward infatuation to good friendship to young love? Well, I'm pretty sure even the folks up in the rear balcony of the Foxwoods Cavern Theatre could feel their palpable attraction. That he can emote and sing would normally be a given, but the level of his talent (especially under these circumstances) was truly impressive.

But this is a superhero show. Could we believe that nerdy Thomas' Peter Parker was also strong enough to be Spidey? Well, literally, yes. He looked great in the suit, of course, but he was completely believable as he faced off against a gallery of villains, and especially with The Green Goblin (Patrick Page). Thomas was a perfect match for Page's trademark acerbic wit and comic book delivery. They had every bit as much chemistry as he had with Ms. Damiano.

He was, simply put, terrific in the title role. We were not in any way short-changed. In point of fact, though we enjoyed both actors in the role, we admitted we preferred Mr. Thomas. The best part of the whole Spider-Man experience was being able to see two young actors excel at the start of their careers, and to see both of them headlining later shows to great acclaim, Reeve Carney in Hadestown, and Matthew James Thomas in Pippin. I'm sure we are not alone in looking forward to long careers on the stage from both.


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