How fitting! An ironic accident: The first posting to my new blog, “View in the Dark,” should be subtitled “Turn off the Dark.” Well, we’ll see about that.
Spiderman: Turn off the Dark
“You got a ticket to WHAT?” my friends ask again. “Spiderman,” I guiltily reveal. “Why?” is the inevitable response. “It’s had nothing but bad press.” “It can’t possibly have any substance!” “But you’re over 70, aren’t you?”
“Yes, it has.” “No it can’t.” “Yes, I am, but every now and then, I still like to be 12.”
Okay, let’s face it. Stan Lee created the Spiderman after my day. Captain Marvel, Superman, Batman and the Lone Ranger were more my speed. I wasn’t a fan. I’m still not a fan. But how can you resist being a witness to the most expensive show ever created for the stage — $65 million and climbing? And it is Julie Taymor, after all, the hugely talented creator of Broadway’s “The Lion King.” And it is the music of Bono and the Edge, of U-2 fame. (I’m not a particular fan of their music, but what the heck: Bono’s been such a good guy in fighting poverty and AIDS in Africa that I feel a moral obligation to support him.) Besides, I’ll either be one of the few witnesses to a catastrophic failure of unsurpassed dimension, or in on the birth of the biggest smash hit in Broadway history. It wouldn’t be the first time the ugly duckling has turned into the magnificent swan despite almost universal condemnation and predictions of doom. Who will have the last laugh has yet to be determined.
The irony is, this thing may not ever have to be any good at all to make money. For all its notoriety, in part because of it, exorbitantly high-priced seats for “previews” are readily selling out. They’re virtually running expensive New York public dress rehearsals instead of the traditionally safer out-of-town try-outs, because the Ford/Hilton/now Foxwood Theatre on 42nd Street is “the only theatre in the world that can handle the technology.” So much for future touring potential. Last Wednesday night I sat in the balcony next to a gleeful young fan who kept whooping and hollering “Oh my God, I can’t believe it. I’m seeing millions of dollars literally flying through the air.”
Of course the play has no substance. Why would it? It’s “Spiderman.” Even so, after years of revisions and delays, it remains of the most singularly bad scripts I’ve ever seen reach the stage. In its present form, it completely ignores some of the theatre’s most basic tenets on how to achieve focus on stage, how to tell a story, how to build suspense, how to achieve a climax (I mean, how basic is that?). There is very little plot to be had, and what there is is either boring (Act I), or confusing (Act II), with a desperate struggle to find a coherent and satisfying ending. Furthermore, they’ve probably been so busy making the flying technology safe for the actors, they’ve had no time to rehearse the rest of the play. Anything beyond the most basic choreography seems thus far completely lacking, blocking is haphazard, and dialogue is unmotivated. All of this could of course be fixed in another month or two. Wednesday’s matinee was cancelled so they could have extra rehearsal time. Their target date for an official opening was January 11, and now it’s wisely been pushed back yet again to February. They’re going to need every hour they can get.
Meanwhile, what we do have is brilliant artistic escapism, with absolutely stunning masks, costumes and set design. And most of all we have little boys playing with their toys. And, oh my, what toys! The Spiderman travels in split seconds to a 2nd balcony rail, hangs low in mid-air over a hapless orchestra audience, bounces off walls! It’s undeniably impressive and fascinating machinery, and the effects are loads of fun. These brilliant designers and technicians have set whole new standards for the art of theatrical flying. And after all, isn’t that the chief interest? The producers clearly understand that nobody really cares about Peter Parker or Spiderman. What today’s New York audiences seem to want more is gadgetry, spectacle, and techno-wizardry, and they’ll certainly get that here. With any luck, they’ll care less about what the critics will say about its lack of merit, and come anyway, in droves, The phenomenon is a reminder that we are living in an age which values sleight of hand, money and technology over human beings. For additional proof of that we need look no further than our current U.S. Congress.
The bottom line is that no matter how bad it is, these Spidey folks are in so deep they don’t dare pull out. Kind of reminds me of our recent policies in the Middle East. I think of Macbeth: “I am in blood [cash] stepp’d in so far that … returning were as tedious as go o’er.” So many millions are already on the table that no one can afford to fold. It was revealed in the December 15th apologetic curtain speech: “We’re trying something new tonight.” I hope they keep trying. I could suggest that our lads in Washington might heed the same words.