Monday, December 06, 2010
Spider Spite: New York Post Review Calls Spider-Man Musical "Epic Flop" Before it Even Opens; Will Vicious Hit Piece Provoke Law Suit?
Possibly, New York Post theatre critic Michael Riedel was lusting after a cheap chance to pan a new musical before it could even officially declare itself stage-ready for legit reviewing. Before it was hardly out of the womb. So he pounced like a vulture onto a show in its very first preview performance.
We are talking the $65 million dollar Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which just opened for a month-plus of previews, and seems to be already in deep dark trouble. That is, if Mr. Riedel's gleefully implicit advance postmortem is to be taken seriously.
In the old dayz, new tuners angling for NY acclaim would test their wares out on junior stages up in Boston and New Haven. Now the "producers" (who can number in the thousands for a single show) move into Broadway houses and conduct "previews" to accomplish the same shake-down process and save money.
Strange that a mainstream New York newspaper would unleash its flop-happy critic on a show hardly on its feet. Was once, not long ago I think, considered very unprofessional. In fact, opening night for this new musical, that comes limping into town with a troubled history, occurs, as of this precarious moment, not until January 11, 2011.
"Stunned audience members were left scratching their heads over the confusing plot -- when they weren't ducking for cover from failing equipment and dangling actors at the Foxwood Theatre on West 42nd street,' sang Riedel in full gloom and doom chirp. Ah, the thrill of watching another turkey cluck, buck and suck before our very eyes. That's Broadway too. A leading spectator sport among New York's theatre pros is watching their rivals (and their friends when so engaged) flailing about in big beautiful bombs over the Great White Way.
We might ponder Riedel's perverse behavior, asking ourselves if he has a personal grudge against somebody connected to this company. For instance, if somebody turned him down for an interview-date combo at a trendy Gotham dive. Or maybe the Post merely sent him out for blood, allowing him to craft an ersatz opening night disaster notice. This act strikes me as bordering on journalistic malpractice, to which the offending producers might file a lawsuit alleging a totally inappropriate and unfair pre-judgment of a new product still in the developmental and testing stages. Would Steve Jobs tolerate so reckless a premeditated smear?
Some fun Spider specs: Highest cost in NY stage history: $65 million. Score by U2's Bono and The Edge. Orchestra seats up to $275. Come wearing a hard hat -- lots of apparently unplanned aerial dynamics (currently tech-deficient) over pricey orchestra chairs. Sainted director Julie Taymor (Lion King) offering another larger-than-life puppet, the 8 legged Arachene.
Snags stopped the show cold four times during first act. Running time by final curtain: 3-1/2 hours. Nothing unusual, really. Out-of-town audiences often sat through long problem-plagued first performances in Philly and New Haven.
Actress Mary Jane, waiting in the wings to be rescued atop the Chrysler building, got lost in the upper grids; so, too, a part of the Chrysler building. But Spider Man (Reeve Carney) flew into sight lines, cradling Mary Jane in his arms for a safe stage landing.
Dangling wires fell over a stunned audience. When the show's heroine, after singing her big number "Rise Above," was seen flailing about in mid air over the orchestra seats for about eight minutes of unscripted action, the stage manager could not resist improvisational relief with mike in hand: "Give it up for Natalie Mendoza, who's hanging in the air!"
More embarrassing yet was the invincible Spider Man himself spinning out of control in space, swinging back and forth over the audience while anxious company hands leaped up to grab hold of his legs and reposition him on the stage.
Here's my favorite: While the Green Goblin (Patrick Page) was at the piano playing on and on to cover for unexpected tech crew mired in malfunctioning props, he vamped into a riff on a grand old standby, "I'll Take Manhattan," giving the thunderstruck crowd, I assume, a little sobriety amidst the chaos. "The best part of the show," declared one patron.
Riedel's obvious glee in giving a blow-by-blow of what might go down in history as one of Broadway's most hilariously inept first preview performances before an audience tells me virtually nothing. Nobody will know what this musical's actual prospects are until it can fix its flaws, maybe overhaul a lousy libretto (taking Riedel on his word), cut and paste, reboot and rewire, tighten and polish.
Contrary to Riedel's dire account, other reports refer to many first nighters calling it "a sure-fire hit." But the show is already haunted by is own troubled history. And director Taymor's reported desire to turn her special-effects-gadgets-galore monster into a long-running "installation show" are deemed by the cynical to mean -- Cirque du Soleil on a stage.
Which sounds to me like another Banana Shpeel in the making. Cirque failed to conquer Broadway. In Spiderman, Broadway may fail to conquer Cirque.
I'm waiting for the paying customers to decide. And for Spider-Man to get even with one very spiteful critic. Which sounds like maybe a hit musical in the making.
I'll take Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, too .... It's lovely going through the zoo ...