Friday, April 01, 2011

So, how do you follow up seeing Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones in the wistful DRIVING MISS DAISY? By seeing SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK! Needless to say, it was a real flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience (pun intended).
When deciding what to see SPIDER-MAN was a given - we wanted to see this alleged theatrical car-crash with it's never-ending preview perfs, cancelled press nights and injured performers. If I could survive such theatrical Ground Zeros as BERNADETTE ("The People's Musical"), WHICH WITCH (aka DEATH BY HAIRDRYER) or LEONARDO - whose chief backer was the Republic of Nauru, a country whose main income is the sale of Guano aka bird shit - surely I could get through this.

Thanks to a cheap tickets website we had fairly good central Dress Circle seats and two big thumbs up go to the Foxwoods Theatre, a rare Broadway theatre which has a large foyer and bar area for mingling in - the front-of-house was so big in fact that the foyer boasted a walk-in merch shop. I guess they got to make the money back!But we couldn't linger front-of-house... eventually the show had to be faced! I knew we were in for trouble when two guitarists walked out OP and stood there with a lineup of guitars - and there they stayed for the entire show, twanging loudly. Why the guitarists? There was thumpy drums too - why must the drummers ALWAYS lose out? Isn't there a Triangle players union?

Oh Julie Taymor, Julie Taymor... while undoubtedly an
imaginative director (her films of TITUS and FRIDA demonstrate this) sadly most of what is wrong with the show can be laid at her door. Her schizophrenic book is no help - co-written with Glen Burger the first half is mostly a stage version of Sam Raimi's 2002 film showing how Peter Parker became Spider-Man and battling the mutated scientist The Green Goblin.

But as if guilty at telling such a populist tale, they have mixed in the Greek myth of Arachne and then added the further layer of having a "Geek Chorus" - sigh - who are four Spiderman fans who appear to be our narrators. So we are getting a story within a story within a story - and there is just not enough meat on the show's eight legs to sustain this device.

Taymor and Berger can't even sustain these ideas: the Geeks vanish after the interval, the Green Goblin - killed off in the first act - returns with a Sinister Six of villains to wreck havoc on both Spidey and New York and - most stupid of them all - the Arachne character who has hovered (literally and figuratively) above the action during the first act suddenly turns into an avenging Femme Fatale, all 8 legs, sneers, lust and death threats. It was quite jaw-droppingly awful.A couple of other things pertaining to Julie Taymor - she would no doubt say that theatre can be made with a rag, a bone & a hank of hair so why is this show's budget a mindblowing $61 million? Even more baffling is Taymor's acceptance of Daniel Ezralow's demeaning choreography for the female chorus - their two numbers are as dumb secretaries in a typing pool scooting all over the stage on their office chairs or as sexy spider-women mutants with 8 suspender & stocking legs. Keepin' it real for the sisters there Julie.

The other component for the show's naffness is the score by Bono and The Edge. It's hard to believe they actually sat down and wrote this with a stage show in mind - I suspect they went through their trunk songs and just pulled out ones that hadn't made the cut for their albums. When Boy George wrote the score for TABOO he wrote a proper Musical score - ballads, dance numbers, point numbers, patter songs - but here, as monolithic anthem-rock song follows monolithic anthem-rock song, you are bludgeoned into your seat. No varying of tone, no heed to the plot's needs, just another big slab of music. As to the show's much vaunted flying sequences, well I guess it's fun to watch the stunt flyers whizzing around the auditorium but when they are attached to industrial hawsers it robs it of any grace or magic and will incur no sense of surprise to anyone who has seen any Cirque du Soleil show. I will admit that it is used sparingly - maybe to the show's detriment as more often than not Spidey's antics are described to the audience as they happen offstage!

Needless to say, just before the final big flying-around-the-auditorium battle betwixt Spidey and Arachne, a voice boomed out that they would have to stop the show for a while to adjust a Flying Mechanism Malfunction - RESULT! So we sat there, looking at two actors in silly costumes staring at each other 'in character' while the peanut gallery catcalled, slow-handclapped or just chatted amongst themselves. Like, you've only had since November to sort this stuff!

The show's main saving graces are the stage design of George Tsypin and costumes of Eiko Ishioka. Tsypin's designs seem to fold out of the stage and mostly hold the attention while the performers get in the way and Ishioka's costume designs for the Sinister Six bring some sense of a comic book's sense of style. The video projections of Kyle Cooper are also entertaining but the second act's over-use of them soon palls and one feels like one is watching just a series of long animated pop videos.
The performances by the cast unsurprisingly are fairly anonymous - Reeve Carney as Peter / Spidey has been hired as he is a Bono soundalike and his acting style too has the air of karaoke about it. By far the best vocal performance was from Jennifer Damiano as Mary Jane - and no one was more surprised than me as she was so punchable as the whiny daughter in last year's borefest NEXT TO NORMAL. AmerĂ­ca Olivio as Arachne seemed ok in the first act but by the second act she was hitting some seriously bum notes.

The performances by Patrick Page as Norman Osborn / The Green Goblin and Michael Mulheren as J. Jonah Jameson were utterly shite. Looking down the cast list during the interval I was gobsmacked to see Luther Creek was playing one of the school bullies and a play-as-cast performer. Last year Creek was a delightfully whacked-out "Woof" in the London transfer of Diane Paulus' revival of HAIR and while it's good that he's employed, it's a shame that he is not given something to match his talent.

Oddly enough when we arrived, the Dress Circle (or Flying Circle as it's renamed) audience was primarily loud teen boys and huge fat girls which had my heart sinking but surprisingly as soon as the lights went down they were remarkably quiet - the DRIVING MISS DAISY oldie crowd were louder!

Unlike shows such as BERNADETTE or WHICH WITCH that were bad but hilariously entertaining to watch, SPIDER-MAN is a show so off the artistic rails that you simply stare at it and wonder why no one involved could see the train crash coming that even a superhero could save.

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