Molly Marinik – I am always pleased when theater gets to stand in line with the pop culture stories of the day. It affirms its relevance and makes me feel like maybe, just maybe, it’s not a dying art.
But even though the tabloid-tastic Spider-Man musical is a hot topic (the Today Show talks about it, for god’s sake), I find myself teetering between fascination and outrage. The recently published quasi-reviews and the audience feedback permeating the Internet pretty much say it all. And as I haven’t seen the show myself, I don’t have much to add. Suffice to say some people are reveling in the schadenfreude (a $65 million dollar production of ego deserves deflation) while others are simply pissed off that they spent upwards of $140 for a ticket for a show that’s clearly not ready to be viewed by an audience.
To be fair, I’ve heard some positive comments about the stunts and the flying (which, you apparently can’t see if you’re in the balcony). But by and large, the masses are disappointed and they are not shy about letting you know. Last week’s accident, in which stunt man Christopher Tierney fell nearly 30 feet, adds another layer of intrigue on the fated production. And let’s be honest, there might not be a more polarizing celebrity than U2’s Bono, who co-wrote the music with The Edge. Spider-Man, directed by puppet goddess Julie Taymor (The Lion King musical, Across the Universe) is scheduled to open on February 7, recently delayed from a previously scheduled January 11 opening.
What this show means for the commercialization of Broadway and the progression of live entertainment will be worth noting, even if its proverbial rope breaks and it plummets to its spectacular doom. Will it even make it to opening night? Does it deserve to at this point? The Popdosers weigh in.
Dw. Dunphy – I have a begrudging respect for Julie Taymor. She’s clearly a very talented director, an actual “visionary,” but I always get the impression she knows this. She’s come across in previous interviews like an Oz-sized ego supported by Lollypop Kid legs. And the combination of Spider-Man on Broadway, played serious, with music from Bono and the Edge, just sounds like an idea borne of someone who’s closed the bar once too often.
Molly Marinik – She’s lost my respect entirely. I was tolerant of the ego because she had the talent to support it, but with Spider-Man she has said some outrageously insensitive things proving that she lacks respect for her team as well as her audience. In particular, after the first clusterfuck of a preview, she commented that she thought it went great and was actually expecting things to go worse. No apology to her cast for the embarrassment, no apology to her paying audience. Self-censoring (and a good press agent) can go a long way…
Annie Logue – Spider-Man: the Capeman of 2011, doomed from the start despite having the best of talents involved.
I’ve been watching the Spider-Man musical story primarily from the vantage point of the online geek press, covering it for the comics angle, and there have been some savage reactions, most of them based on not seeing a single minute of the show, nor on any interest in performing arts, musical theater, etc.
I haven’t seen the show either but even my limited knowledge of Broadway history suggests it’s folly first and foremost to judge a show based on previews. This would seem to be even more true for a show as technically demanding as this one is.
There’s nothing fundamentally “wrong,” or “silly,” or “stupid” about the idea of a Broadway musical starring Spider-Man. We’ve seen shows starring everyone from Jesus Christ to Oliver Twist. It will rise and fall on the ability of the creators to craft a compelling story to engaging music and effective staging. Obviously the staging is getting all the buzz, and the music and story seem short right now, but again, it’s technically in a revision stage that’s very common for the medium. It’d be like dismissing Star Wars based on the first cut Lucas made with dogfight footage from WWII flicks cut together in place of the Death Star battle (which several key Hollywood icons did at the time, including Brian De Palma).
Anyway, this isn’t directed specifically at anyone here, of course; it’s just been sticking in my craw for a while. I’d appreciate the chance to chime in if something comes together on this, from my far-away vantage point in Central Florida anyway…
David Lifton – Comic book geeks complaining about something without full knowledge of the situation?
To quote The Rutles, I’m shocked. And stunned.
Molly – I can’t comment on Spider-man from a comic perspective, so I don’ t know if audiences feel it does justice to the franchise or not. But from what I hear in theater land, that is not the pertinent issue. I don’t think anyone is claiming there’s anything wrong or silly or stupid with bringing Spider-Man to Broadway — Broadway has been full of commercial characters in the past decade. Jesus and Oliver Twist are respectable dramatic figures compared to Shrek and Mary Poppins. And since Taymor is somewhat of a legend, I doubt anyone was originally dubious of her visionary abilities with this particular show.
When a show starts previews, it’s basically saying it’s ready to open, but since the audience is a key component to understanding what works and what doesn’t, it can’t fully know its potential until it has said audience. The preview period is usually (and by usually, I mean pretty much in every situation prior to Spider-Man) a 3 week endeavor. Press are invited during that last week, and they hold their reviews until the day after the show opens (or hours after it opens for online publications). Tickets are usually full-priced during previews, and audiences expect to see final products or near final products. Creative teams can still make changes during previews and once the show officially opens they can’t – so it gives them some extra leeway.
But Spider-Man delayed its preview performances 4 times over a year or so, and then it pushed back its official opening date to 8 weeks from when previews began (rather than the standard 3). So now it has an extra 5 weeks to make those changes, and this after it has delayed performances for so long to begin with. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be allowed time to make the show the best it can be, I’m just explaining why people are a little less forgiving. Not to mention, people are paying well over $100 for tickets. It seems like audiences are being taken advantage of, and that realization is diminishing the respect people have for the show and its creators. If you paid full price to see what you expected to be a near-final version of Star Wars and you saw a hackneyed first cut, you’d be pissed too.
Matt, you say “Broadway history suggests it’s folly first and foremost to judge a show based on previews” but the fact is previews are exactly when critics see shows. In the third week. Which, if Spider-Man played by the rules that all other Broadway musicals adopt, would be now.
And this doesn’t even take into account its book and score which, from what I’ve heard, are unforgivable in and of themselves.
Sorry for the rant.
Matt – Molly, my take on the geek press is that they reject the idea outright, which is maybe why that’s where I start with my own frustrations–reading article after article that starts with the flawed premise that a Spider-Man musical is outright a silly idea. I’m sure it is very different from a Broadway/theater perspective.
I knew about all of the production difficulties but wasn’t aware that they were straining the traditional timeframe for previews and premieres. from my musical theater phase in high school, I seem to recall shows undergoing major revisions over the years in previews–losing big numbers, gaining new ones, etc. Is that still the case?
You would certainly know better than I–do you think there is an element of “old” theater coming up against something boldly “new” here? Obviously Taymor is a known Broadway quantity but as others have mentioned, there seems to be an ego raging here that many may view is in need of a comeuppance…and while this isn’t quite as bad as a “jukebox musical” where a pop star wanders onto Broadway and is able to have a hit without really trying, is there any pent-up resentment toward the idea of “rock stars” invading the Broadway space without a full understanding of what they’re doing?
Annie – Almost every year, there’s a Broadway show that does a try-out in Chicago, in part so that a lot of the issues can be worked out over a few months away from the national media but before a reasonably sophisticated audience. We’ve seen try-outs for both Spamalot and The Addams Family, and in both cases, tickets were in the $75 range. I’ve since seen the final version of Spamalot, and the entire first half was different from what I saw originally. (I’m told that The Addams Family was re-worked, too, which is good because the opening number that I saw was dreadful.) In both cases, the shows had two or three months in front of a Chicago audience, then took a few months off to make changes, then did a new, shorter preview in New York.
It surprises me that such a high-profile, big-budget show would go to Broadway without working out the kinks in a gentler market like Chicago or Minneapolis. I’m assuming it’s because the sets and the flying equipment are so complicated.
DwD – Well, that also probably rests upon Taymor’s hubris that, “I don’t do ‘regional thee-a-tah'”
Jason Hare – The Lion King previewed in Minneapolis.
None of this helps that, when I read “Julie Taymor,” I picture Jeffrey Tambor.
Matt – Let’s all agree on something: If Jeffrey Tambor was directing Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, it would be MUST-SEE THEATER.
I would be on a plane tonight.
Molly – Annie, that’s actually a great point. For reasons that remain unclear, most of the new Broadway musicals haven’t had an out of town try-out…which is really weird. And they’ve all done poorly, too. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is a good example. All but two of the shows that opened this fall are closing by the end of January (only Driving Miss Daisy and Lombardi will remain open).
If I had to guess why there wasn’t a try-out for Spider-Man, I’d bet it had to do with the reconstruction of the Foxwoods Theatre for the show. I actually worked at the theatre for the show that was there previously (Young Frankenstein) and the day Young Frankenstein closed, they began to renovate for Spider-Man. That was January 2009.
Matt, super interesting about the geek reaction. In a commercial arena saturated with franchises turned into musicals, I didn’t think the show’s concept really surprised or concerned anyone. But maybe there was a negative reaction that I didn’t hear. I was under the impression that even though it wasn’t the most original theme, people were jazzed about Taymor’s possibilities.
I think you’re right about major changes during previews. Creative teams use previews to their full advantage. But in a very tight window, for sure, and they usually cut instead of add (to my knowledge).
Old theater vs. new is always a worthy question, but I don’t know that Spider-Man is viewed as unique enough to be new. I mean, they are certainly trying new things with the stunts and flying and that is definitely seen as innovative for a Broadway musical, but at the same time Cirque du Soleil has been doing the same thing for a decade – so it’s not unfamiliar. And the show has made that correlation already in press comments – so it seems like they are embracing the any similarities. The rock stars in question would be Bono and The Edge, because the cast is remarkably unknown (more or less, and I mean that in comparison with Evan Rachel Wood and Alan Cumming who were slated to star back in 2009). And people love to hate (or love) U2.
Jeffrey Tambor will be on Broadway in February in La Cage Aux Folles (the Kelsey Grammer role). Did you know that? Can’t friggin’ wait.
Matt – Wow, Jeffrey Tambor in La Cage Aux Folles sounds tremendous. I envy New Yorkers and those who can travel–I have friends who do theater trips a couple times a year to catch all the new shows. If Jeffrey Tambor were still best known as a star of The Ropers, we might have a shot at him in Central Florida. As it stands, I’m guessing we’ll get La Cage starring that guy who played Charlotte’s husband on later seasons of Sex and the City.
David – And yet, Hank Kingsley would kill to play in La Cage in Central Florida.
Robert Cashill – Most Broadway musicals try out elsewhere. The two that didn’t this season, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Spider-Man, have both come to grief. Women, a non-lethal mess, was probably fixable, but didn’t get the necessary TLC on the road. As Annie noted there was probably no way to try out a show as complicated as Spider-Man. And
Disney kept a tight rein over The Lion King; this is rock concert proceeds.
Taymor putting this show up is like watching Carl Denham prepare King Kong for his NY debut. Her art-isn’t-easy schtick is wearing thin, but her zeal is queasily thrilling. There have been losses along the way (I regret not seeing scream queen Natalie Mendoza, of the two Descent
movies, as a spider-woman) but, hey, come Feb. 7 (for now) we’ll have the greatest show on Earth, or the eighth wonder of the world, or… something. Something that’s already kick-started one of the dullest seasons in recent memory, or half-seasons, as just about everything that opened from September on is about to close next month for lack of audience support or good reviews or both. What’s left? Pretty much just a Beatles revue, Pacino in The Merchant of Venice,
and, hang on to your Depends, Driving Miss Daisy.
Anyone who paid for their ticket is entitled to rant about it online or on Facebook or to their mom, and given the heat coming off this thing I get why the papers are having their reporters file non-review reviews. That’s a break from tradition, though. Shows aren’t press- previewed until they’re fully locked–Women went down to the wire for reviewers with changes and fixes–and Taymor just isn’t there yet, however many times the opening has been postponed. I’m content to wait it out, fingers crossed that more accidents won’t happen…and that, maybe, she’s defied the collective Spidey sense and come up with something worth the effort.
Robin Monica Alexander – Julie Taymor sure has coasted a long time on her Lion King success. Before LK, her only Broadway credit was Juan Darien, a Latin jazz Requiem mass musical that ran at Lincoln Center for 20 (ahem) previews and 49 performances. Since LK (which opened 13 years ago), she has not directed even one show on Broadway. By contrast, Richard Eyre, who directed Disney’s other currently running show, Mary Poppins, has directed 22 shows on B’way during his career. Even Garry Hynes, the Irish director who, like Taymor, won a Tony for directing in 1998 (and like Taymor, the first woman to win in her category), has been back to NYC 3 times since then. Taymor has done some opera and of course her films, but LK is the only mega-sized Broadway show she’s ever done. Would anyone else get such a huge job based on a single (admittedly massive) success?
The single most significant charge that can be leveled against the Spider-Man musical is this: Its putting its actors in danger. I have never heard of a musical in which four cast members were so severely injured before opening that they had to be replaced. Four! One of them could have been killed, and that’s not an exaggeration. He fractured his skull and cracked three vertebrae. The rest of the issues – lame music, stupid book, malfunctioning stunts, anonymous cast members – are par for the course on B’way. (Hell, you could say at least two of those things about almost every hit show currently running.) I think the question of why this deathtrap has been allowed to get this far is the one most pressing to the theater community.
Ken Shane – Thank you for finally saying it. The issue is that this production is endangering people’s lives. It’s just by sheer luck that the actor wasn’t killed by that fall last week. And if someone does eventually die, what does that say about pushing the limits of art. Is it really
worth someone losing their life? For a Spider-Man musical?