Plagued with injury and an opening pushed back 27 days so far, the hottest ticket on Broadway just got hotter with another injured stunt man this past week.
Julie Taymor’s SPIDERMAN at the Foxwoods is the most expensive show in Broadway history, spending up to $70 million so far to bring live spidey-leaps to the masses. And spidey-leap they do, but is it enough?
I took our resident SPIDERMAN expert, my buddy Leroi, to a preview last Saturday night in hopes of answering that question.
Leroi knows his Spidey-lore. So first, the good news.
The $70 million is apparent.
You can see it in the remarkable sets and lighting effects, the incredible play on perspective, the very impressive flying rig that literally launches actors in spider suits from a standing start to a frightening zZZZZiPP high over the audience’s head.
Spidey lands on specially built platforms hung on the front of the mezz and the loge where he pauses before leaping out into the air again, high over the orchestra seats, shooting goo from his wrists and zZZipping to another part of the theatre. For awhile, it’s very cool.
Taymor also staged the LIONKING, a huge and enduring hit for Disney, so naturally she was on the short list for this cartoon. But where the LIONKINGS’s stagecraft is zen-like in its simplicity and movingly beautiful for that clarity, the effects in Spiderman are muscle bound and busy, full of heavy breathing and exhaustive effort. The show literally labors to impress you.
Worse, the LIONKING score by EltonJohn and TimRice sounded like a Broadway show as if the composers understood that the pop hits for which they were famous would not work here. Broadway has its own sound, and when the older Lion lifts baby Simba high into the air and the harmonious “Circle of Life” fills the auditorium, only the hardest heart can fail to be moved. That’s why it’s such a hit.
In SPIDERMAN, Bono and the Edge from U2 don’t seem to get that, churning out ho-hum “melodies” (if you want to call them that) that not only fail to inspire, there isn’t even a catchy passage for the audience to hum on the way out of the theatre. For a 70million dollar Broadway spectacle, I think that’s a fatal omission.
So at the end we have a familiar “story” such as it is, tee-shirts to sell, competent but not particularly memorable performances, insanely great settings that will boggle your mind, an abrupt and lousy ending and that trick, the flying trick. The show is a one trick pony.
Leroi loved it. He stood and clapped again and again as the Spider and the Green Goblin grappled in their harnesses, flinging themselves around the airy volume of the theatre. But me? Not so much. Silly me wanted an actual Broadway show; technical wizardry for sure but also powerful rock songs and swoony ballads and character development so I could be moved by them in the end. Never happened. Nothing even close.
Beyond the mesmerizing stagecraft, the thing that makes Taymor’s LIONKING so satisfying is the emotional wallop it packs. It can literally move you to tears. SPIDERMAN Turn Off the Dark has a $70 million dollar computerized flying rig where its story and its heart should have been. Turn off the dark?