Saturday, December 25, 2010

Spiderman: Turn Off The Light

"Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark" previews have been riddled with multiple injuries and technical snafus. Both shows were cancelled on December 22nd. Opening night was supposed to be January 11th, now it it has been postponed to February 7th. One of the performers is in the hospital after a thirty foot fall from a platform. The stuntman was attached to a cable that snapped. He was supposed to fly. Instead he plummeted--Stuntman? Wait a minute is this theatre or film?

Flying in the theater has been done before thanks to stalwarts like Peter Pan and Mary Poppins. The actors soar through the air, the audience is dazzled, the moment passes and the story proceeds. In "Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark" the characters spend all sorts of time in the air. They fly around engaging in aerial combat; executing cirque-de-soleil-type stunts. There is that word again: stunts. Is "Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark" trying to be a musical for the stage or a movie on stage?

If a stuntman for a movie is asked to take a leap from a thirty foot platform he is asked to do it a minimum number of times. When they are asked to take that same leap on stage eight times a week are the creators stretching the limits of the stage? Should there be limits to the stage? Is that a bad thing?

The show's creator Julie Taymor boasts about the complex flying and visual effects. The budget for the show is estimated to be $65 million. That sounds like movie money to me. By having the performers in Spiderman fly over and over executing death defying acts is Taymor blurring the line between what can or should happen on stage and what can happen in film? Do the producers of theater feel compelled to compete with films like Avatar and Yogi Bear 3D? Stage and film are different mediums for a reason.

When Julie Taymor thrilled the theater world with her stage interpretation of Disney's film "The Lion King" she found ingenious ways to theatricalize the cinematic. She let the audience fill in the blanks and see that actors were portraying the wild animals by melding the human form with masks and puppetry.

None of the press about "Spiderman: Turn off the Dark" has had anything to do with the acting, music or lyrics. The word on the street is that all of those things are quite weak.

What about the story? Julie Taymor calls it a rock and roll circus drama. Then Bono (yeah that Bono) who wrote the music and lyrics says, "We've moved out of the rock and roll idiom in places...including big show tunes and dance songs. U'2's The Edge: a co-creator is unsure of what description to use for the production. Bono has also deemed it "pop- up, pop-art opera" which he then admits is pretentious. Taymor has also told brokers that it isn't a musical. Is this show so good it defies description? Or is it so bad that it defies logic?

Meanwhile, performers are risking their lives doing things they probably shouldn't be doing. Christopher Tierney the young man who fell thirty feet underwent back surgery on Wednesday and his family is celebrating that he can walk again.

There is something insidious about pushing the limits this far most likely for profit rather than improvement of the content. The collateral damage is mounting. Maybe "Spiderman: Turn off the Dark" should turn out its light and be the most expensive Broadway show ever to be produced that never opens.

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