THE LEADING MEN: Reeve Carney Takes One Last Swing Through Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark

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03 Sep 2013

Reeve Carney
Reeve Carney
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark has survived so many delays, debacles, accidents and legal battles that it's time to truly "marvel" at Reeve Carney's superheroic efforts as its leading man. On Sept. 15, the 6-foot, pop-rock star and actor will leave the multi-million-dollar musical, having sung and swung through over 900 performances as Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

Carney has been cast as Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde's ever-youthful hero, in Showtime's new drama series "Penny Dreadful." Created by Tony winner John Logan (Red), it will interweave the stories of "Frankenstein," "Dracula" and "The Picture of Dorian Gray."

Carney, 30, got his first big break as an actor when he was discovered by Julie Taymor at the Mercury Lounge. The Tony-winning director of The Lion King cast him as Prince Ferdinand in her 2010 film of Shakespeare's The Tempest and then hand-picked him to make his Broadway debut in Spider-Man and head a company of 148. She raved, "The music of Bono and the Edge requires an extraordinary talent. Not only is Reeve a great rock-and-roll singer, but his acting is equally fresh and authentic."

With a book co-written by Glen Berger, Taymor spun a tale about Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's comic-book teen who gets bitten by a radioactive arachnid. But what a tangled web of controversy it wove. After a record-breaking 182 previews, Spider-Man finally opened June 14, 2011. And thanks to his strength and stamina, no one had a better view as a fly on the wall than Carney.

Matthew James Thomas, who originally played Peter Parker at the matinees and now stars in Pippin, added, "Reeve is so talented and inspirational. It was terrific to hear him sing those songs by Bono and the Edge and he influenced me greatly. It was fun to share the role with him. He was a leader of the company and so respectful (of everyone). He's incredible!"

Congrats on your long run in Spider-Man. How's it going?

Reeve Carney: I'm just coming from a workout, and I hate workouts.

Isn't doing Spider-Man enough of a workout?

 RC: There are so many things I love about Spider-Man, and one is you get paid to keep in shape. But I'm leaving the show to play Dorian Gray, so I have to work out even more. I'm training an extra five hours and working on a British dialect. The role is as far away from Peter Parker as you can get, so I'm excited to explore that. And Eva Green, Josh Hartnett and Timothy Dalton are in the cast. It was a hard decision to make, but it was a good time to take a break.

Carney in Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark.
photo by Jacob Cohl

Not too many Broadway stars stick with their show for over three years. You've said that Spider-Man allows you to "act, sing and fly — the trifecta." What made you stay?

RC: A lot of things. This character allows me to reach for the highest versions of myself. And I don't mean this stage character of Peter Parker, but his character within. His code of ethics. I like to think of myself as a progressive thinker, but I have an old-fashioned sense of morality. I like to believe the best in people and that no one's intrinsically evil, which is why I relate to Peter. That's how he treats the Green Goblin. And I relate to Spider-Man because he wants to make the world a better place.

Despite all the setbacks, did you ever want to quit? Ever have any serious accidents?

RC: I never thought of quitting. And thank goodness, I've never been seriously injured. I've been caught hanging (as Spider-Man over the audience), but it's not scary. If you shift your weight in the wrong direction, the rig stops. But it stops for your safety. The longest I've been kept hanging is 10 minutes. It's not bad. You wave at people. Our audiences seem to love it. They root for you.

On Aug. 16, one of your castmates, Daniel Curry, got his foot caught in a stage lift. How is he?

RC: I hear he's doing well. I didn't see it happen; I was taking my Act II bathroom break, running upstairs. But Joe and Jimmy Harris from our stage crew handled it so well. Joe is an EMT and Jimmy is a firefighter, so their quick decisions really helped Daniel.

Christopher Tierney

Of course, the most famous accident was when Christopher Tierney fell 30 feet, fractured his skull and broke his ribs in 2010.

RC: I was making a quick change into Spider-Man, and I was about 50 feet from the pit lift. Then I heard a sound and knew something had gone wrong. I've seen that YouTube video of him falling, like everyone else, and he was supposed to be out for six months, but he was back in four months, which is crazy. Chris is like a real-life superhero. And he's still in our show.

Philip William McKinley and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa did a terrific job of retooling the show, but have you seen Julie Taymor?

RC: Not lately. I saw her at the opening-night party and she said, "I knew you were a star," which was sweet. She's always believed in me, and I've always believed in her. I'd love to work with Julie again. She's so creative. She deserves more respect and she's a genius. Julie got a bum rap from the press, but everyone got a bum rap. Our whole show did.

Yet on May 30, Spider-Man celebrated its 1,000th performance. How did you "rise above" the bad press?

RC: If I focused on it, it would bum me out, so I focused on the work. In spite of not having the critical praise, our musical still seems to connect with people, which is the most important thing to us. Little boys tell us, "This is my first show ever," and their parents thank us for making their kids love Broadway. I don't think every show should be Spider-Man, but it's great that it adds variety.

You've said that you grew very close to Jennifer Damiano, your original Mary Jane, and later it was reported that you two were a couple. What's it like to have the press cover your love life? Was this your first showmance?

RC: Oh, man. It's kinda funny to me that anyone would care, but I read about other people's lives, too. I don't know if it was necessarily a showmance. We spent a little time together, mainly just in a working sense. There was a natural flirtation because of all the chaos. I don't like to kiss and tell. But I hear she's dating Matthew James Thomas and I'm very happy for them.

What made Jennifer special as Mary Jane, and how does Rebecca Faulkenberry play it now?

RC: Jennifer brought an interesting depth and a subtle mysteriousness, which is what Julie was looking for. Originally, the show was darker. And Jennifer's voice is so beautiful. And her acting, too. Rebecca brings a brighter side to Mary Jane. She's great. We get along really well. We're sort of like brother and sister. Rebecca made it easy to stay in the show this long.

By the way, have you seen Matthew in Pippin? He's spectacular.

RC: Not yet, but I will after Sept. 15. I love Matthew. We rehearsed a lot together in Spider-Man and we'd bounce ideas off each other. I definitely learned from him. We're very close. We've been texting each other a little. He just congratulated me on getting Dorian Gray because he played the part in the West End in 2010.

Lots of celebrities have seen Spider-Man: President Clinton, Robert DeNiro, Cindy Crawford. Who else?

RC: Harry Styles came with One Direction, and it was before they were really famous in America. He signed my (dressing room) door, and that's really cool. And they bought a pair of Peter Parker glasses for $750 during our (Broadway Cares) auction.

Carney and Rebecca Faulkenberry
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

You did a music video with Harry's ex-girlfriend, Taylor Swift, called "I Knew You Were Trouble." You played her bad-boy lover, and Taylor has said Harry "inspired" the song. How did it feel to accompany her to the MTV Video Music Awards, where she won Best Female Video and said, "I feel really lucky because... my co-star, Reeve Carney, is here and I'm so happy"? 

RC: The VMAs were nuts, but that was so nice of Taylor. And such an honor. It was fantastic to work with her, and she's a real professional. And Harry was so nice. He came up to me and said he loved the video and thought Taylor and I did such a good job.

Speaking of celebrity, your great uncle is the award-winning actor Art Carney. Did you know him?

RC: I spent a lot of time with him until I was 10. He was shy, much more shy than I am, which is funny since he was a comedian. My parents said he was the first one to make me laugh at three months old. Our family would watch "The Honeymooners" every night.

Your brother, Zane, is part of your rock band, Carney, which plays at Spider-Man. What's it like to have them there?

RC: Amazing. They're such great musicians. And it was comforting to know they were all there. But now my brother is the new guitarist for John Mayer. He's making his own solo album and I'm making one as well. We're doing our own thing for the moment.

When you headlined a solo concert of your songs on Aug. 26 at the Rockwood Music Mall, you wowed the crowd with your vocals and versatility. What have you learned from working with Bono and the Edge?

RC: A lot. Bono taught me how to get the most out of my voice, and a lot of that comes from pulling back, rather than pushing. I've also had the opportunity to record side-by-side with him in the studio and pass the mike back and forth. I'll never forget that.

Have you ever thought of writing a musical yourself?

RC: I actually have. And Spider-Man showed me just how difficult it is. I'd like to try someday, but I'm not ready yet. I like a lot of shows. I do love Andrew Lloyd Webber. The Phantom of the Opera still gets me. The first show I ever loved was Cats, which I saw four times as a child. My favorite cat was Victoria, and when I was 5, I would wait for her at the stage door of the Winter Garden.

Back in 2011, it was announced that you would star in a biopic about singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley. What's the latest word?

RC: It hasn't happened, but it will. I think they're still working on the script and don't want to jump the gun. I'm a big fan of Jeff's. My favorite song of his is "Lover, You Should've Come Over." It's the best coalescence of his words and music. There's something mystical, and it's not just the sound of his voice, but the essence of his music, which seems to come from another world.

As you get ready to leave Spider-Man, what will you miss most?

RC: The flying is very exciting and fun, but that won't be the saddest part of leaving. I'll miss all the great people I work with. I'm proud of my castmates for sticking together through all of the good times and the hard ones. We really bonded.

Could you see yourself returning to Spider-Man someday?

RC: Definitely. I honestly love this job. If I weren't leaving to play Dorian Gray, I'd stay even longer. I've heard rumors about it going to Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Or maybe I could come back in 10 years and play the Green Goblin. That would be awesome!

Zachary Levi and Sara Chase in First Date.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Zachary Levi Offers a Signing Bonus at First Date

Many Broadway celebs sign just a handful of Playbills before ducking into their limousine and dashing off. Not Zachary Levi, the TV star of "Chuck," who's giving a comic Tony-worthy tour de force as Aaron in First Date. After each performance, over 100 fans flock to the Longacre stage door, where Levi turns the meet-and-greet into a fun party with music playing. He'll cheerfully chat and stick around to sign every program, and then a separate line forms for anyone who wants a photo.

"I like being able to say thank you. Call it something that started in community theatre," said Levi, who honed his chops there, once as Jesus in Godspell in Ojai, Calif. "You go to the foyer and shake everyone's hand. Now I do have rules. I just sign for people who came to the show that night or it'd get a little crazy. Here's the way I figure it: I have to be at the theatre at half-hour. I have a 90-minute show. If I spend an hour signing, that's a three-hour day. That's not a bad gig."

Levi, 32, was Mel Brooks' first choice to play Victor Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein in 2007, but his Broadway bow got postponed when Warner Bros. picked up his NBC show, "Chuck." Fortunately, his First Date with Krysta Rodriguez fulfills his lifelong dream: "It's incredible. I get to debut with amazing people in a show that's so much fun. I really like making people happy!"

Got comments or questions? E-mail me at waymanwong@hotmail.com.

Until next month, let's hear it for the "boys"!

Wayman Wong originated "The Leading Men" column and wrote it from 2003-2006. He also has been a longtime editor of entertainment at the New York Daily News and an award-winning playwright.