Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Happy Landing

Spiderman - Turn off the Dark will open on Broadway Tuesday night, March 15th. I recently saw a preview and walked away confused. This is only a technological spectacle much like Cirque de Soleil. I'm not sure it qualifies as a Broadway show. Audiences may flock to it but, like its lead character, it certainly has its ups and downs.

Spiderman is a technological marvel. Julie Taymor and her team have created a remarkable experience literally turning the theatre on edge. Through amazing innovation, audiences look down on the city flying along with Spidey. Cast members swoop over the orchestra seats and land in the balconies and aisles. One amazing scene weaves enormous waves of cloth together as a princess-like woman named Arachne rises up like a martyr. The set varies from primitive to elaborate fascination. Watch carefully and enjoy the view. This is the best part!

The plot is exactly what you would expect. You follow Peter Parker as he gains his superhero powers and then flirts with his love interest Mary Jane. The story line is either obvious or very hard to follow. For example, at one point a young man with dreadlocks appears, stage right out-of-context, and plays a white plastic bucket like an oversized bongo drum. We are not really sure why. The progression of the play isn't enthralling. You need a road map because you often don't know where you are going.

Most disappointing was the score. Bono and The Edge, the nucleus of U2, are heralded as a major 'get' adding the supreme cherry on the Spiderman cake. I waited, long and patiently, for one gem song I could remember and take home with me. It never came. All the audience receives is a recurrent riff which didn't score big points. A couple of 'real' U2 songs are briefly excerpted but nothing new seems important.

Anyone who has seen Julie Taymor's Lion King on Broadway will notice its influence in Spiderman. Both shows use a large hydraulic riser center stage where main characters make their supreme declarations. You will also recognize some ornate masks and costumes that look, somewhat out of place, like Lion King left-overs. Julie's signature style and method are obvious. There is no doubt that she is innovative like no other and has raised the bar in scenic design to celestial heights. It will be a long time before anyone approaches her standards (and budgets.) For this technical theatre major, all joy was found here.

After speaking with several other people who have witnessed previews of Spiderman, it is obvious that the show's metamorphosis is not complete. Exchanging notes on content, it is apparent that many effects and plot twists have been added or removed along the way. What will result on opening night is anyone's guess. I am relieved that Spiderman has finally settled down no longer damaging its cast on a regular basis. Time will tell if the show will become a long-running tourist magnet. It's rumored that Bono and The Edge are still honing the score. Please add some good music before you open!

One universal comment heard often: Spiderman's main theme song is never heard during the show. How can you open a new chapter in the legend of the man-arachnid without it? See it for the spectacle. It is a treat for the eyes but not necessarily for the ears. Pray for the hundreds of people who contributed to this show. They are about to jump off the world's tallest building. Let's see how they land!