Thursday, February 17, 2011

Anomaly of Spidey on Broadway

Hi, I'm Sue. I'm pretty sure that if I were a superhero, I would be wearing Chuck Taylor's instead of stilettos while fighting evil. And I am an Anomaly.

Okay, so I see a lot of Broadway theatre. Not all of it, of course, and not as much as some. But, partially because I'm a theatre geek and partially because of my job, I try to see whatever I can. Especially if we think the show is going to be popular - it’s good to be able to discuss it with people. And even if I don’t love a show, there’s never been one that I couldn’t find a positive in - whether its the acting, the score, the book, the direction... something. And generally, I understand how and why a show is appealing to the masses. Of course, it depends who I’m speaking to whether I give my personal or professional opinion. But then, I saw Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. And I’m not sure what to do. Because it’s bad, you guys. Really bad.

The story - it’s pretty incomprehensible, really. Julie Taymor takes the Greco-Roman myth of Arachne and forces it into the Spider-man origin story. A friend of mine pins this on Taymor’s apparent need to always have a strong female character in her works (for example, she turned Rafiki into a woman in The Lion King on Broadway). Here's how it goes down: Peter Parker gets bitten by a genetically-engineered spider, because Arachne chooses him; she gives him the "gift of the spider" and also weaves his Spidey suit. He discovers his powers (this part is somewhat accurate) and begins to take on the superhero role and date Mary Jane. But Arachne claims that Peter Parker is her perfect mate, and invites him to join her in the Astral Plane. When Peter chooses MJ over Arachne and throws out his Spidey suit, Arachne flies into a rage of jealousy and is determined to destroy MJ and be with Peter. Through a series of events that I didn't quite follow, she eventually kidnaps MJ and brings her to the Astral Plane, where Peter follows. When Peter says that he’ll stay with Arachne if MJ is spared and returned to Earth, Arachne realizes that Peter would never be happy with her, and releases them both. To thank Arachne, Peter kisses her, which apparently releases her from the curse of Athena, and she dies. The end.

If that doesn't make any sense to you... well, I agree. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not Spider-man, in my opinion.

Okay, so there’s a "geek chorus" (instead of a Greek chorus), that interacts with Peter Parker, and narrates the story while fighting about what the story actually is (they don’t seem to know, either) and referencing the comic books. After the intermission, the geek chorus actually takes about 10-15 minutes to explain what has happened so far. Peter Parker wrestles with a giant blow-up doll. The show is self-referential at points, but not in an effective way, and never by the chorus. The military, interested in funding Dr. Osborn’s research, are portrayed as Nazis. Some the characters, not in the geek chorus, speak to the audience directly, or make fun of others for singing and dancing.... in a musical. Obvious jokes in the book were not getting laughs, and any references to past incarnations of Spider-man were completely contrived. In a what-does-she-have-that-I-don’t sequence, Arachne does a completely unnecessary song and dance about shoes. There was a super-villain fashion show. At least half of the second act was a movie - the set pieces had LCD display, and played the story on them, while the band sang. Occasionally some villains walked around to the beat on stage while the band sang. Far too much of the story occurred with no one actually on stage. Last line of the show: "Get 'em, Tiger." (But he had already destroyed the final villain...?)

The songs. Well, the verses were screamed, so no one could understand the lyrics. The choruses were just one phrase (usually the title of the song) repeated ad nauseam with slightly different rhythms. Nearly all of the songs involved counterpoint, which got old fast. Nothing was memorable. I couldn't sing a single line for you less than 24 hours later. Besides, with all that screaming, I don’t know how any of their voices are going to hold up over a long period of time.

I thought that the sets, for the most part, were very well done and very interesting. There was a lot of movement in the set pieces, and flipping and spinning and color, and just a lot of set pieces. They were done in a forced perspective, and kind of comic-book-art way. Taken in a vacuum, I’d say they were really great. But they have to be taken in the context of the show. They looked great, yes, but too many of them were just unnecessary. When Peter and MJ walk through a neighborhood, they backdrop doesn't need to change multiple times. A huge set piece for a classroom does not need to be created for part of a 3-minute scene. Pieces were created and added and moved simply because they could be. It didn't add anything to the story.

And, finally, the thing that’s been getting most of the press - the aerial work. Well, it’s kinda neat that Spider-man almost fell on me because he overshot his mark. But I didn’t think the flying itself was all that impressive. After all of the accidents they’ve had in the news, it seems like they’ve scaled the stunts back quite a bit. Probably because the Labor Board and Actor's Equity are all up in their grill at the moment. If you want to see truly impressive aerial stunts, with far fewer harnesses and ropes (i.e. more natural talent), see Cirque du Soleil - the technique will be much better, the music will be much better, and the story will be more straightforward. hehehe.

At this point, though, I feel the need to give a HUGE shout out to the technical crew for this show. I can't even imagine how many things they have to be doing at once in order for this show to go on every night. I'm willing to bet that what goes on backstage is more intricately choreographed than what the audience is watching. I wish I could have applauded for them.

Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark is the most expensive production in Broadway history, coming in at $65-million. In order for producers to recoup their investiment, they'd have to operate for about 4 years with each performance at full dollar-capacity. [Theatre jargon time: Dollar-capacity and ticket-capacity are different. Full dollar-capacity means that every single seat in the theatre is sold at the highest price possible. No discounts, no comps, no seats for staff or ushers or the merch team. Full ticket-capacity just means that each seat is filled.] And I just don’t think that’s going to happen. They have been operating close to full ticket-capacity lately, but a lot of those tickets are being sold at a discount.

This show is pure spectacle. And I think (maybe it’s "hope") that it’s going to wear off. The geeks that go will be disappointed, because it’s not Spider-man. I think your typical Broadway demographic will not be interested in this type of show. And I don’t think parents will pay Broadway prices to bring their young kids after reading terrible reviews. Right now, it’s the train wreck that no can look away from. But the novelty will wear off.

I expected this show to be bad. But not this bad.

And that's how Sue sees it. (Glee, anyone? C'mon...)

Anomaly Staff Writer


Anne said...

OK, Sue. This does two things. 1. Convince me that even for laughs, I shouldn't pay to go see this in any way. 2. I think we need to be better friends and hang out again, because you manage to be succinctly hilarious without exaggeration and I was laughing OUT LOUD alone in my apartment with my cat.


Jen said...

Wow. I had no idea it was so bad. Great review, Sue. Thank you. I'll make sure I don't fly all the way to New York to see it. ;) On a side note, and Anne should hang out again.

Johnny Madrid aka Tim E. said...

Whoa. Hahaha, you took one for the team. I thought that this was going to be bad, but this sounds like an epic train wreck. Somewhere i hope this is going to be a hit. I'd love to see Spider-man the musical to open in the Netherlands. Now, THAT would be hilarious! It would be extra bad to hear those musical numbers translated in to Dutch. Good review, enjoyed it a lot. Keep 'em coming!

Anne said...

But will it be the FIRST Spidey Musical? Not if THIS GUY has anything to say about it!

Sue said...

Oh, and apparently they're now bringing in a comic book writer to rework the script. And there are rumors of a co-director coming on to fix Taymor's disaster. They're supposed to officially open on March 15. I'm not sure how much you can fix between now and then. Or maybe they'll just delay the opening for a 6th time. Ugh.

Also, @Anne, yes we should. :)