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This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Spider-man Musical Spins a Web of Scandal

December 21, 2010

Visionary director Julie Taymor is having a terrible December. Her inspired adaptation of The Tempest is receiving scathing critical reviews, enjoys a 24% “fresh” rating and has preview audiences staying away by the busloads. Taymor’s ambitious musical of Spider-man suffered another setback in its already scandal plagued production. The Los Angeles Times summarizes the production woes and most recent accident like this:

    “What was once a troublesome trend is now a mini-epidemic: performers being injured in the new musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” In a preview of the long-delayed production Monday night, Christopher Tierney, who performs many of Spider-Man’s most complicated flying stunts, fell an unspecified distance to the stage and had to be taken to a hospital when a harness or wire apparently failed.”

(source)

While not being particularly entrenched in Spider-man fandom, it’s fairly obvious a musical based on superhero is probably ill-conceived, even if its unintentional camp prospects are irresistible. Comics Alliance has comprehensive review (caution: it has some radioactive spoilers):

    “a performance packed with so much spectacle and insanity that it seems as if every idea anyone ever had got green lit. There were expressionistic sets that look like they were stolen from ‘Metropolis,’ aerial battles, Bam! Kapow! pop ups straight out of Adam West Batman, Kabuki dances, a Greek “geek” chorus, rock ‘n’ roll numbers, animation on floor to ceiling LED screens, and an enormous amount of forced perspective, often from conflicting perspectives.”

(source)

Upon first hearing about the production my first thought was, “So that’s what Joel Schumacher’s been up to!” and actually was mildly amused by the concept. Once more details were released I tamped down my urge to snark the mess out of it. After all La Mommie still speaks glowingly about extravagant musical adaptation of The Lion King and I absolutely loved Frida. Taymor’s lyrical visual aesthetic is incredibly appealing to me. However, each time another damning article about the production emerged I found my good will rapidly eroding. Despite the setbacks, the production soldiers on unflappable and seemingly impervious to the mounting evidence suggesting this might be a bad idea. Blistering critical concern trolling doesn’t seem to derail Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, nor does the postponed Broadway debut.

Having said all that, I do hope that Taymor’s production survives the numerous problems threatening to engulf it. Women aren’t allowed to fail the way men can. Moreover male failure is rarely attributed to their gender. I hope the musical debuts strongly and with its scandals and struggles well in the past. Taymor is a tremendous talent and it would be disappointing if her brilliant talents were felled by her creative ambitions.

So what are you thoughts on this scandal riddled spectacle?

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. aliciamaud permalink
    December 21, 2010 4:41 pm

    I hope the production survives, too—it’s good to see some Broadway shows that aren’t the same old same old, either literally, in revival form, or just in the form of passe stories/tired music. (That’s why FELA! was the best thing I have seen in many years.) But more pressingly, I hope all the CAST members survive! Read a report this morning of another person seriously injured from a fall from the set. Yeesh.

  2. December 21, 2010 5:04 pm

    “a performance packed with so much spectacle and insanity that it seems as if every idea anyone ever had got green lit. There were expressionistic sets that look like they were stolen from ‘Metropolis,’ aerial battles, Bam! Kapow! pop ups straight out of Adam West Batman, Kabuki dances, a Greek “geek” chorus, rock ‘n’ roll numbers, animation on floor to ceiling LED screens, and an enormous amount of forced perspective, often from conflicting perspectives.”

    Ouch. I think Taymor is caught in a bind here. She’s forced to prove her abilities over and over again, and her work ends up getting overloaded. I thought “Across the Universe” would have been a better film if it had fewer musical numbers, so it could give us more character development and a less arbitrary plotline. But it’s hard to sell a Beatles tribute without including everybody’s favorite songs. And it’s a testament to Taymor’s brilliance that despite these obstacles, she was able to pull together a movie I ended up really liking.

    “Having said all that, I do hope that Taymor’s production survives the numerous problems threatening to engulf it. Women aren’t allowed to fail the way men can. Moreover male failure is rarely attributed to their gender.”

    I agree. I want this to work. Taymor’s success or failure will have big repercussions. It’s like when Elaine May directed “Ishtar”… it not only torpedoed her career, but all the Hollywood suits said that it proves women shouldn’t be trusted with big budget movies (or any movie at all, really). That’s not May’s fault, only the world we live in. I just don’t want to see history repeat itself.

  3. aliciamaud permalink
    December 21, 2010 5:05 pm

    Oh, sorry, that’s the one mentioned in the link…thought they were two different incidents.

  4. December 21, 2010 5:20 pm

    I agree. I want this to work. Taymor’s success or failure will have big repercussions. It’s like when Elaine May directed “Ishtar”… it not only torpedoed her career, but all the Hollywood suits said that it proves women shouldn’t be trusted with big budget movies (or any movie at all, really). That’s not May’s fault, only the world we live in. I just don’t want to see history repeat itself.

    Add Mimi Leder to the list too! I don’t think she ever really recovered from whipping she took over the critical and commercial failure of “The Peacemaker”.

  5. December 21, 2010 5:25 pm

    Ouch. I think Taymor is caught in a bind here. She’s forced to prove her abilities over and over again, and her work ends up getting overloaded. I thought “Across the Universe” would have been a better film if it had fewer musical numbers, so it could give us more character development and a less arbitrary plotline. But it’s hard to sell a Beatles tribute without including everybody’s favorite songs. And it’s a testament to Taymor’s brilliance that despite these obstacles, she was able to pull together a movie I ended up really liking.

    I agree. “Across the Universe” had some very strong performances in spite of the distraction some of the less inspired musical numbers. I have a soft spot for the film because it’s so lovingly rendered with a tenderness that is refreshingly unsentimental. It’s a beautiful film.

    @Aliciamaud – I agree. “Wicked” was a breath of fresh air, as was The Lion King. These productions are accessible, unfussy and engineered to be inclusive crowd pleasing fare. I think Spider-Man could be that way too if their luck changes. I am very impressed by the hubris and truly do hope it finds an audience.

  6. December 21, 2010 9:33 pm

    Superheroes and Broadway just don’t mix. It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman was a Musical starring Jack Cassidy (yes, David/Sean’s dad). Did you know that? I didn’t think so. But the point is that the audiences for a Broadway show typically don’t go for the comic books and the reverse is even less true. I know it’s a good idea to try to tap into a new audience, but you have to keep some realistic expectations, and I think this is where this production fails.

    I don’t think Bono, The Edge or Taymor are to blame for this not working. However, this isn’t a true “Broadway” production. I could see this playing almost as a rock concert in those style venues rather than a legitimate theater, and I hope it can and will, because I bet this could create its new audience out across country.

  7. hsofia permalink
    December 21, 2010 10:15 pm

    It concerns me that there have been so many injuries. I don’t know if they are just attempting things that are unusually physical, rushing rehearsals, made mistakes in casting, or don’t have good quality control, but that kind of thing is never good for morale and indicates some disconnects somewhere.

    Maybe it will be one of those craptastic broadway hits, that non thea-TAHR people go to see. I like Julie Taymor – she’s got great vision, and it can be hard to convey it to others. But men who push through and “make it work” are generally rewarded and admired (even if grudgingly).

  8. December 22, 2010 11:31 am

    damn, Julie Taymor is having a tough month. I saw Tempest on Saturday, and it’s not her best film, nor is it the best shakespeare play-movie, but there were strong acting performances and few lovely trademark taymor visuals I liked (though I did wonder if she’s been reading a lot of Carlos castanada lately…). actually, I’d say the movie needed more of Taymor’s style in it, to be more successful. she also made me appreciate Russell Brand, which was unexpected!

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