Friday, December 10, 2010

Spiderman $65M Broadway Musical Needs A Hero To Save It

Last night I went to see the new mega Broadway musical "Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark," directed by Julie Taymor, with music by Bono. And despite all the bad press it was getting, I was very excited to see this huge $65 million dollar monster, and how they would bring this story to life.

Now granted, it was only the 8th preview (opening night is January 11th, I think), but this musical needs so much help, I'm not sure how long it will actually run.

Here's what I liked:

1. The design elements and the visual look of the show are stunning. The use of huge, hydraulically lifted set pieces was impressive and the masks and exagerrated costumes are incredible.

2. The flying sequences over the audience are thrilling.

Here's what I didn't like:

1. The use of four obnoxious teenagers to narrate the entire show. You know you're in trouble when the classic story of Spider-man needs to be narrated. Whoever came up with this concept should be shot. Every time they came on to move the so-called plot along, you could feel the audience give a collective groan. (Even with the presence of a recent Amazing Race alumni as one of the four, I couldn't stomach their constant interruption.)

2. The music by Bono is slow and tiring, and by the time the 10th ballad is sung in the second act, most of the kids around me were asleep. Has Bono ever seen a musical? Has he ever written a funny lyric or an upbeat tune? Because this score is so depressing that I don't think anyone into Broadway musicals will want to buy this album. It's particularly "telling" when none of the songs got much applause when they were over, and some didn't get any. I think the audience was just confused. Were we watching Spider-man or a Bono concert? (Did I mention all the self indulgent and unnecessary ballads?)

3. The main characters are bland. The guy playing Spider-man never moves past the pathetic wimpy stage, even after he gets super powers. You never feel anything for him, or for his equally dull girlfriend Mary Jane. (Do these people have any life in them, because it seems it was all sucked out by the giant set-pieces.)
4. The super villain costumes are very cool...but except for one, we never really see them do anything except pose on stage. Most of their "fight sequences" are implied, or illustrated with giant images of them exploding. (They are introduced in a "fashion show" runway --literally-- and that is about all we see of them.) The Swiss Miss costume was my favorite, as she looked like a gargantuan version of Grace Jones -- and who wouldn't be afraid of that?
5. The book of the show. It's like they spent all the money on dazzling special effects and design elements, and forgot the basic element of a show. The story. Without a compelling story and 3-dimensional characters, there's not much for the audience to hold onto. So instead, we just sit back and watch a three hour parade of overproduced spectacle that doesn't have much heart. (I even liked "Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown" better than this, and that has a whole bunch of problems as well. But at least it was funny, and you could actually hum some of the tunes as you left the theater.)
At the end of the show, no one in the audience stood up. No one even clapped that enthusiastically (except for the guy who played the Green Goblin, the only character with any flair). I think we were all trying to process what we just saw. Was this a show or a tax write-off?
I hate to sound negative or nasty, because there were actually elements of the show I liked. But the overall impression was that it was a lot of visuals with not much underneath.
As I said, they have a month to work on this show before it opens. So hopefully they will bring in a show doctor to help tighten it up. But unless they decide to throw out half of the score and completely rewrite the book, this musical should be retitled "Spider-man: Turn off the Set".

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