Last week theater critics across the U.S. published their reviews of the new Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, directed by Julie Taymor (The Lion King, the recent film adaptation of The Tempest) and featuring songs by U2’s Bono and the Edge, despite the fact that the $65 million production doesn’t officially open until March 15. But because Spider-Man has been in previews since November 28, with its opening delayed at least four times since February of last year, and because full-price admission is being charged for these “work in progress” performances — tickets can cost up to $275 — critics rationalized that the public should know what it’s paying for.
A tangled mess, apparently. In his February 7 review for The New York Times Ben Brantley wrote, “‘Spider-Man’ is not only the most expensive musical ever to hit Broadway; it may also rank among the worst,” while The Washington Post‘s Peter Marks called it “a shrill, insipid mess,” the Los Angeles Times‘s Charles McNulty remarked that the stunt-filled show “can’t find its bearings as a circus spectacle or as a rock musical,” and the Chicago Tribune‘s Chris Jones declared that Taymor’s production suffers from “a problem that has similarly ensnared far humbler new musicals: an incoherent story.” New York magazine’s Scott Brown had a more positive reaction, describing Spider-Man as “hyperstimulated, vivid, lurid, overeducated, underbaked, terrifying, confusing, distracted, ridiculously slick, shockingly clumsy, unmistakably monomaniacal and clinically bipolar.”
See what I mean? “Vivid.” Not bad!
To give credit where credit’s due, Taymor’s never been shy about swinging for the fences — The Lion King‘s worldwide gross of nearly $4 billion since its premiere in 1997 has shown that her creative risks can pay off handsomely — and U2 wouldn’t have become the biggest band in the world if Bono and the Edge had stayed in their anthem-rock comfort zone for 35 straight years. Still, they’ve got their work cut out for them with Spider-Man, which is why I’ve come up with a list of suggestions in the hopes that they’ll be able to salvage their creation by March 15 … or April Fool’s Day … or a year from now … or whenever this show finally “opens.” In the meantime, the poor bastards will have to make do with sold-out performances most nights of the week.
• Arnold Schwarzenegger may be itching to get back on the big screen now that he’s no longer governor of California, but since former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is also looking for work, how about hiring him to play the Living Pharaoh, a minor villain from the Spider-Man comic books? Don’t be surprised, though, if he says he wants to quit the show during previews and return to the Middle East, then shows up on opening night and claims, “I’m still the Pharaoh. I’m just delegating authority to my understudy.” He has a history of this sort of behavior.
• Also from the world of politics, former congressman Christopher Lee (R-NY), who recently resigned from office, would make a great addition as the Incredible Hulk. I mean, have you seen that photo of his rippling six-pack that he sent to Julie Taymor? Yeah, so it was intercepted along the way by a different woman, who thoughtfully reported it to the proper authorities — in this case, the gossip website Gawker.com — but now, more than ever, Lee understands Spider-Man‘s moral: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Granted, Representative Lee didn’t exactly abuse his power when he attached that photo to an e-mail and misrepresented himself as 39 instead of 46, but he sure did abuse his abs — I mean, look at those beauties!
• Eric Massa, the Democratic congressman who, like Lee, represented western New York until resigning almost a year ago after being accused of sexually harassing male members of his staff, can play a new villain named the Tickler. (Extra security will be needed for the cast and crew.)
• While we’re on the subject, a little onstage nudity never hurt anybody. Are Tony Award winners (and comic-book-movie veterans) Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson itching to get back to the Great White Way this year?
• And speaking of things that do hurt, Spider-Man‘s preview audiences have observed some hair-raising technical glitches since the end of November, including stunt double Christopher Tierney’s 35-foot plunge into the orchestra pit when his flying harness snapped. Earlier, during rehearsals in October, stunt double Kevin Aubin broke both of his wrists when a catapult effect went awry.
(With any luck, both performers have health insurance, something Spider-Man’s alter ego, freelance photographer Peter Parker, presumably lacks. Think through your repeal of that universal health-care package carefully, Congressman Boehner, or “Mr. Spidey Goes to Washington and Kicks Your Ass” may send a touring production to your town.)
Obviously, no one wants to see an innocent stuntman get hurt, but rubbernecking is a part of human nature, so why not give the audience what it pretends it doesn’t want and drop actual celebrities from the ceiling of the Foxwoods Theatre? Call it community service for repeat offenders like Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, and Mel Gibson, all of whom could stand to be scared straight, and though I wouldn’t say WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange is a celebrity, the U.S. government has informed me that he qualifies as one for the sake of this sideshow attraction.
• You know what? Forget the flying harnesses and wires. Put failed senatorial candidate and ex-witch Christine O’Donnell on the theater’s payroll and let her work up some spells to make the actors playing Spider-Man and the Green Goblin levitate. I hear she could really use the rent money.
• James Franco costarred as Harry Osborn, Peter Parker’s mood-swingin’ frienemy, in the three Spider-Man movies released between 2002 and 2007, after which he reenrolled at UCLA to earn his undergraduate degree in English, then moved to New York to attend Columbia University’s MFA writing program, NYU for filmmaking, and Brooklyn College for fiction writing. Now he’s going after a Ph.D. in English at Yale and taking classes at the Rhode Island School of Design while also opening art exhibits in Berlin, writing a collection of short stories (2010’s Palo Alto), directing short films and documentaries and entering them in festivals, making guest appearances on General Hospital, and cohosting the Oscars on February 27, where he’s nominated for Best Actor for 127 Hours, which is apparently the number of hours in a day on the planet where Franco lives.
Raise your hand if you think he should rewrite the script for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. (Don’t really raise it. I can’t see you, remember?) Much of Franco’s graduate work centers on adolescents already, so he knows the mind-set of an insecure teenager like Peter Parker, plus he can probably churn out a first draft faster than it took me to recite his academic credentials. Hell, if he wants to paint the sets for free and try his hand at punching up Bono’s lyrics, I say let him — cheap creative labor is hard to find.
• I have an alternate option: For the past four years IBM has been developing a multimillion-dollar supercomputer named Watson, whose sole purpose is to beat puny humans on the game show Jeopardy! Look, if that thing’s not going to cure cancer, then put it to work rewriting Spider-Man. Then again, if the show’s producers were to pay IBM $5 million only to have Watson churn out a three-hour musical about a newspaper employee named Peter Parker who’s really an alien from the planet Krypton, there’d be hell to pay.
• There are two legitimate superpowers in the world right now: China and Justin Bieber. The former will be needed to bankroll the many changes necessary to make Spider-Man a triumph — I think another billion should do it — and the latter should be drafted to take over the role of Peter Parker and ensure that this show breaks even by playing for years and years, or least until the 16-year-old singer’s anti-puberty medication wears off. Now that he’s lost the Best New Artist Grammy, which is almost always a career jinx, the Bieber be unstoppable. (Esperanza Spalding, I’m sorry for your loss. I mean, your win. I mean … yeah.)
• Since no one seems particularly enamored of the title Turn Off the Dark, I’d like to suggest that a contest be held to create a new one. Users of Twitter, the popular microblogging site, have already brainstormed some humdingers, including:
- “Spider-Man: More Like ‘Turn Up the Suck’! LOL … Anybody Got a Spare Student Ticket? I Really Want to See It. Tweet Me Back”;
- “Spider-Man: OMG Once I Found a Spider in My Tub and I Was Like Eww Gross”;
- “Spider-Man: Did You Kill It? They’re Good Luck So I Hope Not”;
- “Spider-Man: Is That True?”;
- “Spider-Man: Helloooooo! #SpiderSuperstitions”;
- “Spider-Man: Is Tobey Maguire Gay? No Judgment, Just Curious”;
- “Spider-Man: You’re So Vain You Probably Think This $65 Million Broadway Musical Is About You”;
- and, almost as enigmatic as Turn Off the Dark, “Spider-Man: I Can’t Believe I’m Eating Lunch at Arby’s for the THIRD TIME THIS WEEK.”
• According to Billboard.com, Australian soft-rock duo Air Supply are collaborating on a jukebox musical based on their canon of hit love songs, which includes “All Out of Love,” “Making Love Out of Nothing at All,” “The One That You Love,” and “Lost in Love.” But what if they take the rock-musical reins of Spider-Man from Bono and the Edge? Already, future hits like “Caught in Your Web of Love,” “Spider Love Is Better Than Muskrat Love,” and “Title TBD (But It’ll Probably Have the Word ‘Love’ in It)” are dancing through my head!
Air Supply’s Russell Hitchcock, who met musical partner Graham Russell in the early ’70s in an Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar, says he has no interest in acting in the group’s musical “unless there’s a part for an old man by the fire or something.” Well, what if the producers of Spider-Man set you on fire instead, Mr. Hitchcock, and send you running up and down the aisles of the Foxwoods Theatre in a flame-retardant Human Torch costume? You can’t deny that it would literally reignite Air Supply’s career.
• In the process of casting Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Taymor and the show’s producers broke a long-standing theatrical tradition: they failed to hire movie stars. Last February, in an article about Broadway plays that are revived more frequently than others, the New York Times‘s Stuart Miller wrote, “Most producers say that if George Clooney, Harrison Ford or Meryl Streep wanted to star in a show, even if a previous production had closed a year earlier, they would find investors.”
Okay, so Spider-Man isn’t a revival, but if reviews could kill, it’d be in serious need of resuscitation by now. So bring on Clooney as Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson, Ford as Peter’s uncle Ben, and Streep as his aunt May. And if they refuse to play ball, just show them Mel Gibson’s new full-body cast.