Sunday, January 2, 2011

Spidey in the Air

So I did it. Saturday night I rang in the new year and joined the crowds of people that have been heading to the Foxwoods Theatre on 42nd Street in NYC (for one reason or another). I ordered my tickets prior to the unfortunate accident that caused many people to rush to the box office to order tickets in hopes of witnessing a train wreck. But long before the stunt accidents occurred, the show had plenty of financial and other issues which caused it to put off it's opening for months. And when I ordered my tickets, I thought I was attending the week before opening, but then that was pushed back to February. So I understand that I was witnessing something still going through changes. 
As an author/composer - I understand the need to continually re-write. We never know when it's 'done.' (Once I rewrote the title song to a show 3 nights before opening and the original song had already been used in two other incarnations of the show.) So I get that. People continue to think that Spider-man Turn off the Dark could go down as the biggest flop (or some still hold out for a 'hit') of the Broadway stage.  I am somewhat drawn to these types of shows. No, not comic book shows, but shows that others want to revel in the failure of. I saw Carrie (yes, the Stephen King horror) as a musical on Broadway. 
Dance of the Vampires
I also saw Dance of the Vampires, Taboo, The Capeman, and a short lived show called Mail where a man's mail came to life and sang to him. I believe as a musical theatre writer, I can learn just as much from problem shows as those that are brilliant. Each of those shows - I actually found things that I really liked. Carrie had parts with beautiful scenes between mother and daughter (though everything with the teens was awful.) Dance of the Vampires was great 'camp', even using the song "Total Eclipse of the Heart." And Taboo had a wonderful score, but it was a shame that Americans don't know Leigh Bowery enough to care about that part of the story. 

But Spider-man is something completely different. 

First let me say that I still believe Julie Taymor does inventive things as a director that come right out of some sort of hallucinogenic dream that she can magically place in her films or on stage. The vision she has for this show is unmatched (in my opinion). And I'm not talking about the flying man. I'm talking about the 'look' that you know she had her hands all over from the sets, puppet masks, break away walls, multi-legged spiders and so much more. There were sequences in the show that I thought "wow...this is truly stunning." If I had seen this in an arena I would have been thinking what an amazing performance piece it was. But the fact that it is a Broadway show means standards are different. Broadway musicals (either based on movies or original ideas) are a certain art form that calls out for the book and songs to be the main thrust of a show. A character sings in a musical when they can no longer convey their feeling or emotions in words. That is not the case in Spider-man. There are some really good rock voices on the stage, but I would compare the score to that of a rock group that puts out an album in which they attempt to tell a story through their album - sometimes telling a story through song and sometimes just getting lost in a music motif. Again - perfectly acceptable if this were a concert or an arena show. But my opinion is it just needs someone who has sat through a BMI or ASCAP Musical Theatre workshop to get a hold of it and follow the basic principals of musical writing. There are a couple of nice sounding songs, but they are placed back-to-back in some cases (two ballads in Act II and Peter's big number is overshadowed by the band so we can't understand what he is singing.) I don't feel that is the case with all songs. I listened hard and actually could understand most solos (can't say the same for group numbers, but I felt the group numbers are an afterthought anyways that no one will go out humming.) 
This show has been in previews for 28 performances and I completely understand they could not take this out of town and do all they are doing technically in some other theatre. And my complaints are not with the technical aspects of the show as I believe they are so cool. (We sat in the mezzanine on the 3rd row and witnessed spidey get hooked up as he went to fight the Green Goblin.) My issues are that I followed the show because I knew the movies. And the parts that need work (that many people have complained about on numerous forums and even some reviews that should not have been written yet) could/should have been worked out long before the technical aspects were added. Script work, pacing, songs should all have been addressed in the rehearsal process long before previews. 

Do I think there is an audience for this show? Absolutely. As the amount of people that are paying top dollar for previews show. Even though they stopped the show twice in Act I, the audience didn't seem to mind as we were told what was happening and they worked out technical issues. I've read they intend to tour this show in arenas and I think it will probably be received very highly there. But as a Broadway show - maybe I'm old fashion, but I prefer my musicals to have some sort of emotion attached to them. (Without giving too much away - I felt the most for Arachne in the piece. That's right - you don't even know who she is if you've only seen the movies.)  Perhaps Taymor didn't feel Peter Parker had enough emotional depth to carry a musical so she chose to write her own issue in the Spider-man series to fill that weight that was lacking. I still hold out that more changes can take place in the next month prior to opening, but I don't think the changes that this particular audience member feels it warrants will be addressed. Sometimes writers get too close to our pieces and need other eyes to point out the obvious. I don't think anyone will be doing the pointing where this is concerned. One last comment: my other half who I call "average theatre go-er" found it very entertaining and wanted Spidey to fly more in Act II. I have a feeling that's what most people will leave saying. If you're going for the audience that saw the movies - let the "boy fall from the sky" one more time.   

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this review, Greg. Your observations about the technical ingredients to musical theatre success were so clear, I felt as if I were a seasoned old Broadway aficionado. Thanks for the entertaining reading for the morning!