Tuesday, December 7, 2010

SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK (Preview) • Foxwoods Theatre

This is one of those shows that I wanted to see primarily just so I can say that I'd seen it.  I had to stand in the cancellation line for about an hour, and snatched up a ticket from a "broker" for a hundred bucks.  But hey, that's why I go to the big city.  It was actually sold out for the entire weekend, so I'm glad I got in.
Readings for this musical began in 2007, and even though it's not set to open until February 7th, it's already achieved historic status for a couple of reasons.  For one, the brains behind this one, Julie Taymor (or Julie "Paymore"), well known in theatre circles for THE LION KING and all of its associated spectacle, has already spent an estimated $65 million on this puppy -- the most expensive Broadway show in history.  It costs about a million bucks in operating costs a week.  Also, SPIDER-MAN (penned musically by U2's Bono and The Edge) ran out of money last year, had to cancel the first originally scheduled previews a couple of times and push back the opening, and there have also been a few broken bones, literally, along the way.  The night I saw it one of the female leads, Natalie Mendoza, was out because she had suffered a concussion after being hit in the head by a rope backstage.  In Taymor fashion, this show was meant to be a theatrical spectacle, with around 27 flying sequences.  The rigging devices for these sequences are similar to the "four point" wire systems that are used for those "eye in the sky" cams you can spot at football games and stuff.  They've actually renamed the traditional "Dress Circle" seating area of the Foxwoods theatre the "Flying Circle".

Photo by Jacob Cohl
I went in expecting to see a theme park, and that's exactly what I got.  From what I can recall, this show pretty closely mirrors the original Spider-man story that follows Peter Parker (Reeve Carney), the local punching bag, who's in love with the girl next door, Mary Jane (Jennifer Damiano).  You remember how it goes -- after being bitten by a spider, these abilities emerge, and Parker goes from weakling to local menace to crime fighting hero.  One of the new characters, Arachne (very nicely performed by understudy America Olivo), was included by Taymor, in an effort to further mythologize (<-- nope, not sure if that's a word) the Spider-man tale.  According to Greek Mythology, Arachne was a weaver of the old world who, because of her talent and ego, incurred the wrath of the goddess Athena.  They had a "duel at the loom", Arachne won, her work was destroyed, but Athena felt pity for her and made Arachne the world's first spider.  Cool.  I love mythology and had never heard that one before.  Anyhoo, along the way, Spider-man's other "Sinister Six" enemies are featured in a fashion styled runway show -- everyone from Carnage to the Lizard.
Photo by Sara Krulwich
The New York Times
Many NYC theatre folks have blasted this show for its weak book, but as far as I was concerned, it follows the Spider-man story closely enough, gives you a butt-load of eye-candy (if this isn't nominated for a Tony Award for set design, I'll be surprised) and is completely  enjoyable -- as long as you don't go in expecting Shakespeare or anything.  The set is very reminiscent of those pop-up books that immediately conjure up that comic book feel.  The Sinister Six are clad in oversized costumes that in contrast, make Spider-man look pretty sleek and hot.

Natalie Mendoza (Arachne).
Photo by Sara Krulwich
The New York Times
I also got to see a little of the technical issues that have been big theatre news lately (which I was secretly hoping for).  There was a pre-show announcement from one of the producers letting us know this was only their 6th preview, and there may be times when they may have to stop the show.  It happened twice.  One stoppage had the Green Goblin suspended over the stage for a few minutes, the other before Arachne made her entrance from the balcony.  I had a center balcony seat, and it was kinda cool because to my left along the railing was this landing pad of sorts for many of the aerial entrances and exits.  I admit, all of the rumored technical glitches are part of why I wanted to see this one, but I'm so glad nobody got hurt.  It was a little nerve-racking, because every time somebody went up or came in with wires, I had a pit in my stomach, but it was very exciting.  This show will either be the biggest flop, or the biggest money maker in history.

Here's a piece that was featured on CBS's 60 Minutes.

Photo by Jacob Cohl

Book by Julie Taymor & Glen Berger
Music/lyrics  by Bono and The Edge
Directed by Julie Taymor
Foxwoods Theatre, 213 West 42nd St. New York, NY
open run | tickets: $67.50 - $140
Performances Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, Wednesdays, Saturdays at 2pm, Sundays at 3pm

Reeve Carney (Peter Parker - Spider-Man), Jennifer Damiano (Mary Jane Watson), Natalie Mendoza (Arachne), Patrick Page (Norman Osborn - Green Goblin), Michael Mulheren (J. Jonah Jameson) , Ken Marks (Uncle Ben), Isabel Keating (Aunt May), Jeb Brown (Philip Watson), T. V. Carpio (Miss Arrow), Mat Devine (Vladimir Kravinoff - Grim Hunter) , Gideon Glick (Giachomo Fortunato - Jimmy-6) , Jonathan Schwartz (Professor Cobbwell) , Laura Beth Wells (Emily Osborn) , Matt Caplan (Flash Thompson) , Dwayne Clark (Robbie Robertson), Luther Creek (Kenny McFarlane), Gerald Avery (Fritz von Meyer - Swarm) , Collin Baja (Cletus Kasady - Carnage) , Emmanuel Brown (Maxwell "Max" Dillon - Electro), Brandon Rubendall (Dr. Curt Connors - Lizard), Sean Samuels (Swiss Miss) and Christopher W. Tierney (Sergei Kravinoff - Kraven the Hunter).

Choreography by Daniel Ezralow; set design by George Tsypin; lighting design by Donald Holder; costume design by Eiko Ishioka; sound design by Jonathan Deans; projections design by Kyle Cooper; hair design by Campbell Young Associates; make-up design by Judy Chin; aerial design by Scott Rogers; aerial rigging design by Jaque Paquin.

UPDATE 1.14.11
Remember when I said this show wasn't scheduled to open until February 7th?  Well, make that March 15th.  Crazy.

UPDATE 2.7.11

Okay so, although SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK isn't scheduled to open until March 15, theatre critics have been chomping at the bit to get their reviews in on this show.  There's typically an "understood agreement" that shows are not to be reviewed by critics until right before the official opening, but seeing as how this show has practically had the longest preview period in history, tons of publicity due to the delays, accidents, and not to mention the fact that it's been pulling in about a million a week -- in previews mind you -- the reviewers said, "Screw this. We're reviewing this $65 million dollar puppy on its previously scheduled opening date of February 8."
The NY Times' Ben Brantley weighs in...  ouch...

UPDATE 3.19.11
June 14th.  That's the latest scheduled opening night for SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE MADNESS.  That makes 6 delays in a show that costs more money than any other Broadway show in history.  2010 Tony possibilities for this show are now off, and remember, SPIDER-MAN has been in the making since 2002, with readings starting in 2007 and previews that began in November of 2010.  No other show in history has had such a long preview period.  Why are things still so effed up?  Many think it's Julie's ego, and the fact that she thought she had a diamond on her hands, when she really had a very expensive turd.  Seriously, the making of this show is arguably more compelling than the show itself.

Photo by Sara Krulwich, The New York Times
Now I'll admit, when I saw the show in December, I was pretty enthralled.  The reason?  Well, the flying was pretty cool, but at that time, there was already so much talk about this show, I felt like I was witnessing something that would wind up in the Broadway history books.  No doubt it will, but for all the wrong reasons.  The NY critics who broke with convention and went in to review it, even though it was in previews (over 100 and still counting…), trashed it. 

The latest in the saga is that a few weeks ago, Julie Taymor was sent packing.  For the last few months, she has reportedly refused to institute any of the changes suggested that would make the book more comprehensible (especially the second act).  Although she'll remain director in title, the day-to-day operations will be taken over by BOY FROM OZ director Philip William McKinley.  The producers have also brought in Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a playwright and comic-book writer, to serve as script doctor.  Also, writing pop songs is not the same thing as writing songs for a musical, and although Bono and the Edge are still in the picture, a musical consultant has been brought in to re-arrange the rather pedestrian musical numbers.

Meanwhile, the costs keep soaring, and word is that ensemble members are starting to get really annoyed and exhausted from the constant rehearsals.  Some want out.

There are plans to close down the production for about 3 weeks to rehearse the newly installed revisions to the book.  The new date when preview performances will resume is May 12th.

It never stops over there at the Foxwoods Theatre...

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