Why Bother Revamping Spider-Man on Broadway?

Plus Anything Goes is worth a theater outing to NYC

I’m not going to lie: I felt dirty. Paying $108 for a balcony ticket felt like I was buying a ticket to see Charlie Sheen. Friends, reviewers and my gut all told me not to see it. But I had a morbid curiosity for a show that has become a national joke. With artist/director Julie Taymor (Frida, Broadway’s The Lion King) and music by Bono and The Edge, could Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark really be that bad? Yes, it could. It is a bloated, $80 million spectacle with the emotional depth of an amusement park ride.

The stage show loosely follows the plot of the first Spider-Man movie. Peter Parker (Reeve Carney) is a young nerd who pines after his neighbor Mary Jane Watson (Jennifer Damiano). One day during a field trip to a freakishly dangerous lab, he is bitten by a mutant spider … and transforms.

[SIGNUP]What should have been the straightforward tale of Peter coming into his own powers becomes a mess. Besides the Green Goblin and several other villains (in ridiculously goofy costumes, a la Dick Tracy), another villain is added, Arachnae (T.V. Carpio). She flies, sings, does a couple of mid-air aerobatic flips with Peter, and shops for shoes. (I wish I were kidding about that last one.) We also get more set pieces. More flying. More banal music.

Taymor obviously didn’t meet a special effect she didn’t like. Relegating the story to the background, all efforts—and monies—were spent on the effects. Yet, no matter how flawlessly performed (there were no snafus during my performance, no actors getting caught mid-air), the effects are distracting. You can’t stop watching the cables and harnesses of the actors. During one scene, Arachnae was preparing to fly from the balcony. She tried to be imperceptible, but that was kind of hard considering she was wearing a giant spider costume while holding several legs so they didn’t hit audience members’ heads.

As I write this, the show is in hiatus. Julie Taymor is out. New directors and book writers are in. For three weeks the production is in rehearsals to reshape, alter, and essentially “fix” the show. Some characters will be out. Some music will be added. And, from what I’ve read, the running time will be cut down.

But, really, why bother? The production currently grosses the most of any Broadway show each week. They are selling out, even with premium seats at $300. Why not embrace the spectacle and open the show as is?

But is it too late? Is the show so broke that it’s beyond fixing? You’ll have to wait until I see it again. God help me.

*******

There is always excitement when seeing a Kathleen Marshall revival. In her hands, we don’t simply have a restaging of a dusty old musical. Instead, each production shimmers with energy, joy, and a glint in the eye. Like Wonderful Town and Pajama Game, the latest incarnation of Anything Goes almost becomes the gold standard for all future productions.

Anything Goes, of course, features the sparkling score by Cole Porter, including the classics “Anything Goes,” “You’re the Top,” and “It’s De-Lovely.” Each song is legendary, with life outside of the show’s boundaries. Therefore, many audience members may have their own expectations, their favorite versions. But the cast—including Sutton Foster, Joel Grey, Colin Donnell, Jessica Walters, and Adam Godley—is simply superb. Sutton Foster is perfect as Reno Sweeney, the glitzy nightclub singer. It’s wonderful to see this Reno dancing. During the 10-plus-minute tap section in the song “Anything Goes,” Foster remains center stage. And then, afterward, proceeds to belt out the final notes. (Listen for her occasional Merman vocal affectations.) But while “Anything Goes” is the showstopper, the quieter “It’s De-Lovely” is flawless. Colin Donnell’s and Laura Osnes’s vocals are beautiful together, playing light throughout the slightly syncopated melody. Almost equal is their Astaire-ian choreography.

Tickets are on sale through January 8, 2012.

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