Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Turn Off the Lights, Already


Not a single thing I've read or heard about Julie Taymor's $65 million disaster, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, has been positive, unless it was coming from Taymor herself. The few folks I know who've seen the show have described an unimaginable mess which makes no sense at all: especially in the second act which involves the mythological Arachne, a weaver who was turned into a spider as punishment for her hubris. In Taymor's "vision," Arachne needs Spider-Man to release her from her curse, employing a chorus line of spidergals who sing about shoes in doing so. Really? Curiously, composers Bono and The Edge remain silent about the show and it's oft-reported accidents and ridiculous (at best) second act. Audience reactions have been reported as everything from appallingly stunned to out-and-out horrified by its lack of coherence. Indeed, the comic's defining line and central theme ("With great power comes great responsibility") isn't even uttered by the original character, Peter Parker's Uncle Ben, but thrown away by Spidey himself in a battle with the Green Goblin. Disrespectful, at best; bad writing at it's worst.

As for Taymor's vision? Just take a look at the costumes pictured above. On the left is the Green Goblin, a villain depicted in the Marvel Comics like this. In Taymor's version, he looks more like an aging club kid who's done one too many hits of E for his own good. On the right we have Swiss Miss, a villain Taymor made up just for the show, so named for her resemblance to a Swiss Army Knife. Seriously? Swiss Miss? The name makes me think of cocoa, rather than a super-villain. I certainly don't think of a metallic dominatrix with goat horns on her head. And Spider-Man's creator Stan Lee is okay with this? I think dementia must be setting in.

Clearly this is a case of a director's ego gone wild. Sure, Taymor's production of The Lion King is a visual feast, based on material that already existed with a clearly defined story. And her film Titus was an inspired take on a Shakespearean classic (also previously existing material with a clearly defined plot). And her well-received biopic Frida was at least rooted in reality (but came about more because of Producer/Star Salma Hayek's passion for the subject matter). Then came Across the Universe, a psychedelic love story set during the Vietnam War era, using the Beatles' music in much the same way that the disastrous Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band did, weaving a story around songs that already existed (sensing a pattern here?). But the former costume designer (aha) has started to show signs that she's gotten in over her head, most recently with her ill-received production of The Tempest, a film that left critics cold and which audiences avoided like the plague, despite the presence of Dame Helen Mirren as a re-sexualized 'Prospera.' But this show, while based on previously existing material, sprung almost entirely out of Taymor's head, based on a dream she had about Arachne after 9/11. What? Yes -- look it up. Talk about hubris...

Now comes word that Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has delayed it's opening yet a fifth time, until March 15th, so additional corrections van be made to the second act (perhaps to make it make sense?). I'm thinking Taymor and company should heed the warnings of another Shakespearean play and "Beware the Ides of March." After all the accidents (4 major injuries); protests from other members of AEA and the truly terrible word-of-mouth from those who've already seen the show, the show's producers should just cut their losses and let this terrible-from-the-start idea die. Of course, $65 million dollars is quite a loss to claim on a 1040. 

How bad can be it be? Take a look at this commercial for the show and then tell me:



Honestly, as a performer and director who got his start in Musical Theatre, I hope I'm wrong. But I doubt that I am. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is destined to go down as one of the biggest Broadway disasters since Carrie: The Musical.

More, anon.....
Prospero

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

The blame does not lie soley with Taymor. The entire theater for profit industry is the problem. First, when you expect people to shell out 200 plus dollars for a performance, the audience wants their moneys worth. Second, audiences today want the same kind of spectacle they see when watching a movie.It used to be if you had a good book and a great score you were a hit. But with the beginning of helicopters on stage, falling chandeliers and other audience grabbing gimmicks, there is now a certain one upmanship taking place.The "first time and only time I'l ever be in NY" theater patron demands a spectacle and the powers that be are giving what the people want.

Sean said...

In the commercial, Spiderman does the same flying we saw Mary Martian doing 30-40 years ago.

Prospero said...

Anonymous is correct, the audience demand for spectacle is out of control, but spectacle doesn't make for bad theatre ("Mary Poppins" was actually quite good). "Spider-Man" was just a terrible idea for a musical from the start and Taymor's loony ideas only exacerbate the terribleness...