While in NYC last month, my editor Gabrielle and I decided on a whim to go into Times Square and see get rush tickets. We wanted to see a show that we couldn’t see elsewhere (I in Toronto, here in San Francisco), which eliminated a bunch of the productions that were currently touring or would eventually do so.
The centre of the Venn diagram depicting tickets available and shows that met our criteria fell firmly on a single show – Spider-man: Turn off the Dark. I am, and always have been, a Marvelite (I spent a lot of the trip to NYC pointing out locales from Marvel comics), and Gabrielle was game, so off we trotted to the Foxwoods Theatre for the Matinee showing.
We were seated in pretty much the dead centre of row R in the orchestra – smack dab in the centre of the bottom and the perfect place to look up and watch the stunt performers wail on each other. There were also platforms hanging off the edges of the balcony like eyries; clearly where our favourite web-head was going to perch. I was quite excited to be there, and the theatre was filled with lots of young boys and girls who clearly felt the same. I’ve never seen so many Spidey pajama sets in one place before!
Gabrielle studied music in uni, and I studied theatre – I also averaged two to three community theatre musical productions per year (or at least, theatre productions with music in them) from the age of four to the age of eighteen. I say all this to explain where I’m coming from with this review.
And because of this, we had just as much fun peering up at the actor’s monitor screens as we did watching the show. The woman sitting beside us did not understand why we kept craning our heads around to stare at the front of the balconies, and once we explained, she didn’t understand the appeal.
Theatre geeks, you just can’t take us anywhere.
Now, before I get into an in-depth analysis of the show I feel I should talk a bit about Julie Taymor, the widely publicised accidents and problems, and some of my thoughts on the overall production.
I didn’t see anyone get hurt.
The stunts are extremely difficult and require an immense amount of coordination to not get tangled in each other’s cords but to land in the right attitude in the right place at the right time in the music, so I am not at all surprised that the rehearsal ran long and performers were injured. The stunts were extremely impressive and well done and really added to the show.
Yes, the lead actor was rarely the same stunt performer who swung through the air, but sometimes he was, and usually he was singing at the same time which was damn impressive, so I am more than happy to give him a pass for the other major fight sequences for which he is not trained.
I know a lot of people were really peeved about the character Taymor invented and added: Arachne. But trust me, she is both necessary and an awesome addition.
People were also peeved that Taymor added extra villains (beyond the Green Goblin, some of which were her own invention) and here I agree that it was excessive and unnecessary. As cool as the “Sinister Six” sounds, the plot could have easily made do with the “Terrible Two” and it would have saved time, costumes, budget, and my headaches.
Julie Taymor has what we fondly called Artistic ADD when we studied her in university. She has fantastic ideas, but she piles concept onto concept onto concept instead of just developing one. Her visual vocabulary is constantly shifting, which throws the viewer off. As soon as there’s an unspoken social pact established between audience and play about the vocabulary of the visual conventions of the design, she bloody well shifts it and you spend half of the scene trying to parse what you’re looking at instead of paying attention to the narrative. Or, to put it in less poncey academic terms – too many ideas, all of them half-developed.
Generally, a Taymor production runs about twenty minutes too long. Spider-man was no different.
Act One was phenomenal and fantastic. I would change very little about it. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that after my toilet break during the intermission, I immediately bought the soundtrack.
Act Two was a hot mess and I feel like if the new director, Philip McKinley gave me a morning with the script and an afternoon with him, I could probably fix it. It’s not unfixable, it’s just garbled, and all the attention is on the wrong stuff. It needs, I think, a set of eyes and an exacto knife that aren’t attached to anyone involved closely with the production.
The soundrack CD I bought is also a mess – clearly an attempt to recoup as much money as possible by spending the least amount of money on it as they could. The quality of the songs are fine, but it’s not in show order, some of the best numbers are absent, and some of it is sung by Bono instead of the actors. Now, I know when they released the Wicked soundtrack, they purposefully omitted Nessa’s song The Wicked Witch of the East in order to maintain the secrecy of one of the plot twists. But there can’t have been such forethought with this CD, I don’t believe it. And it’s a shame, because my favourite song of the whole show, Bullying by Numbers, was one of the ones omitted.
The show is not High Art. It is entertaining as hell, which is all that it is meant to be. It is a rocking good time. And, somehow, they jammed some really great Classic Greek Theatre values in as well. It was like this fabulous smushing-together of Aristotle and Stan Lee.
Next up on the blog: the Overalls – Theme, Plot, Costume, Performance, Set, and Music. Excelsior!