Actor Christopher Tierney lies in a hospital bed, in serious condition, suffering from broken ribs and internal bleeding. (I promise, I’ll lighten things up by the end of this post.) So, that’s how he’ll spend his Christmas; he wanted to spend his Christmas performing on Broadway, doing the job he was hired to do, in the new musical, Spiderman. Monday night, malfunctioning equipment caused him to fall 20 or 30 feet (reports vary). The show has been in previews for a few weeks, and this is the fourth serious accident.
The idea of making a musical out of Spiderman is not a terrible one. Superman made for a fairly fun musical, and when I saw the Hollywood flick with Tobey Maguire (or was it Elijah Wood? I can never tell those two apart), I thought, here’s a superhero story that uses nerdiness and romance. If handled with charm and vision, witty writers could make a good show out of it.
But oh, that IF! In no particular order, here are the top ten things I find disturbing about Spiderman.
1) It isn’t called Spiderman. It’s called “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” which, to me, is a turn-off, seemingly emphasizing dark elements of a hero’s twisted soul rather than the fun froth of that halting romance.
2) At $65,000,000, it is the most expensive show in Broadway history. The previous record, I believe, was $23,000,000, and of course that show didn’t make that money back. On my last show, I managed to raise roughly $6,500, and I’m led to this yuletide analogy: Which is better for the environment, constructing the world’s tallest Christmas tree, or planting 10,000 seeds? All I think when I hear that figure is how else that money might have been spent.
3) The New York Times’ economics editor estimates that it will be about 4 years before the show even begins to make up its initial investment: ‘Spider-Man’ Economics
4) Director Julie Taymor is better known for spectacle than story-telling. Spectacle is the fool’s gold of theatre. Audiences are used to the special effects of big-budget movies. Shows that invest in stage magic ape the “wow factor” of an incomparable medium. It’s much more important that the story be told in a compelling way. On stage (Juan Darien) and on film (Across the Universe), story-telling appears, to me, to be Taymor’s weak suit.
5) I’ll let you in on a not-so-well-guarded secret: Performers in Taymor’s shows are often in pain. They’re often carrying huge contraptions, and her other Broadway show keeps a team of masseuses in constant employ to heal the players whose bodies are crumbling under their weight.
6) The actors have a union, one that was formed to ensure its membership is not mistreated or injured at the worksplace. First, there was an accident in which an actor broke his feet. I don’t know that the union was informed, but they let the show go on. The same stunt then caused another accident in which an actor broke both his wrists. Two injuries from the same stunt? Could that be really bad luck? Then, an actress suffered a concussion. Is the word “accident” really applicable? By this point, New York’s Department of Labor and the actors’ union both said they were looking into it. And also The Occupational Safety and Health Administration. They’re all allowing the show to go on tonight. What in hell are they waiting for?
7) The opening night has been pushed back many times, which means Spiderman previews, to full houses at full prices, for more than two months. Nowhere in their publicity do they inform the public that they’re seeing an unfinished product.
8) The public doesn’t care. A cynic would say that some attend with a bloodlust akin to those who go to auto races hoping to see gory accidents. But I keep encountering people who are going because they’ve always loved the character or Spiderman, or they’re looking forward to seeing actors fly. On visible ropes. Maybe they don’t know they’re visible.
9) The 1966 musical It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane….It’s Superman! had experienced hands on its creative team. The director was Harold Prince, who knows a thing or two about refining new musicals. The score was by Strouse & Adams, who’d had a hit with Bye Bye Birdie and also penned one of my favorite scores, Golden Boy. Spiderman’s songwriters are extremely famous, but not because they’ve ever done anything on Broadway, or in any theatre at all. They’re Bono and The Edge, the hit-makers for the wildly popular rock band, U2. I don’t know why anyone ever makes the assumption that someone who’s successfully written rock music can write a musical. But this has happened a lot in recent years. Stars such as Larry Gatlin, Dolly Parton, Stewart Copeland, Randy Newman, Jimmy Buffet, Dennis De Young, The Pet Shop Boys, Paul Simon, Holland-Dozier-and-Holland, Boy George and Jim Steinman “slum” in theatre-land, and folks often go “Cool! I really like their hit songs. I bet they could write a great musical.”
10) During the preview period for any new musical, writers make tweaks and adjustments. Songs get cut at the last minute. Or added at the last minute, as Sondheim’s two most famous numbers, Send in the Clowns and Comedy Tonight, were. This involves sitting in the audience and seeing how things land, how the people in the seats react. Bono and the Edge are in Australia right now, performing. They’ve yet to see their show before a live audience.
Still want to go? Then you’re just like one of these bears: