Saturday, January 4, 2014

Spider-Man: Turn On The House Lights

Tonight one of the longest and strangest theater stories finally comes to an end ... Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark is closing. The story of the making of the Broadway musical adaptation of Spider-Man was more convoluted and strange than the Clone Saga, with its massive budget and cost-overruns, rockstar composers, its famous director who was eventually fired, extravagant scenery and special effects that landed more than one performer in the hospital,  and a year+ long preview period, lawsuits, and more. The show actually was selling fairly well, but costs so much to operate that it could never make its investment back.

I saw the show - at least, a version of it, during its long preview period - I think just a few months before Julie Taymor was fired. It was terrible. I say this as a theater person and as a comics fan. It pretty much failed on all fronts. I guess my favorite scene is this big battle on top of the Chrysler Building, which should have been the climax of the show, but instead was the end of Act One. And I liked watching Patrick Page as the Green Goblin. Imagine Jack Nicholson's portrayal of the Joker, but even hammier. The character didn't make much sense, like most of the show, but at least he was fun to watch, unlike most of the show.

One thing that struck me about this scene is that it follows the climax of the first Sam Raimi movie, changing the Manhattan Bridge to the Chrysler Building as the thing off of which the Green Goblin throws Mary Jane, and Spider-Man diving to save her. Because of that film, most people think that that is what happened in the original comic stories. But as comics fans of a certain age know, what actually happened was that the Goblin throws Peter Parker's girlfriend Gwen Stacy off the bridge, Spider-Man shoots a web to catch her but the sudden jolt snaps her neck. Given the multiple injuries and near-disasters in this production, that plot development might have been a little too close to home.

For those unfamiliar with Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, that blue spider-woman in the background of this drawing is Arachne, who was some sort of spider-goddess who turns Peter Parker into Spider-Man to serve as her avatar/champion. At least, I think that's what was going on. The narrative was not particularly clear on that point. The scenes with Arachne were actually pretty cool, but it was like they'd been imported from another show. It was clear that what Julie Taymor really wanted to do was a show about Arachne. Actually, that might not be a bad idea, for her to just go off and do a big spider-goddess puppet-opera somewhere. But she probably just wants to forget about all things spider-related at this point. I hope all the actors and stagehands involved in the show pick up new gigs pretty fast, though something tells me they probably won't miss working on this particular show besides the paycheck.

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