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Tex and the City: Spider-Man’s Tangled Web

Today on Tex and the City: Jon Paul wishes there was a little more magic up Julie Taymor’s Spider-Man sleeve.

UPDATE 1.14.10: The producers of Spider-Man announced a delayed opening until March 15, saying the creative team needed more time to perfect a new ending.  Unfortunately, a spokesperson said that Bono was NOT writing any additional songs—which is very much needed.

There were touches of brilliance lighting up yesterday’s preview performance of the much buzzed about Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark at Foxwoods Theatre.  The aerial sequences over the audience of the superhero vs. nemesis Green Goblin were exhilarating—and not just because we were worried about safety.  Julie Taymor’s comic book inspired mask creations for the first villains that Spider-Man fights and citizens he saves were thrilling.  George Tsypin’s scenic design with a moving Chrysler building and Brooklyn Bridge were captivating.  Unfortunately, none of those good deeds could overcome the battle with a tangled plot web and mediocre score to help Spider-Man rise to the heights.

Let me get a few things out of the way.  First, I adore Julie Taymor and think she’s one of the most visually arresting artists working today—I’m not one of those people anxious for her to fail.  Second, I appreciate that she is trying to take an enormous risk—both artistically and financially—to mount a different type of show on Broadway—I’m not one of those naysayers about spending $65 million.  Third, I don’t think my thoughts on the show are nearly as critical as an official review in the New York Times so I don’t think it’s too early to share my view—when I am given official status as a critic perhaps I’ll change my tune.  But let me encourage Broadway producers and veterans to embrace the new age of social media like other brands—see it as a way to interact with customers and understand their reactions, rather than rail against them.  Enough said.  So let’s get to it.

Overall, the show is a muddled mess, which didn’t seem to bother the legion of young fans packed into the audience who cheered Spider-Man at every turn.  But for me, I had hoped for something a little loftier.  Indeed, Julie Taymor’s book with Glen Berger is clearly striving for something more—opening Act I with a complicated back story of a female weaver named Arachne (T.V. Carpio taking over for Natalie Mendoza) who was turned into a spider by the jealous Greek God Athena—told to us by a quartet of hipsters who are evidently writing their own Spider-Man storyline we’re about to see.  If it sounds complicated, it is.  And slows things down tremendously.  We’re nearly three quarters of the way through the first half before Peter (Broadway newcomer Reeve Carney) is finally himself transformed—and then the show flies, literally with the clever song “Bouncing Off the Walls,” that captures Peter’s pent up frustrations and new powers, followed by the song “Rise Above” that gives us Spider-Man’s true crime fighting persona.  That song was the first whisper of a catchy anthem, but yet didn’t quite gel overshadowed by all the flying action.

Therein lies the second biggest problem with the show: the music and lyrics by Bono and The Edge.  If this is going to be a rock musical filled with teenage angst, it’s going to have to work a lot harder to convey those passionate feelings.  The music felt very one note—U2.  That’s fine for the male characters, but doesn’t at all suit Mary Jane, played by Jennifer Damiano, whom I loved in her Tony-nominated role in Next to Normal.  Mary Jane is always a tough character to pull off—she has to be captivating to Peter but also lack self-confidence.  Here, Taymor has given her an intriguing back story with an alcoholic and abusive father—glimpsed briefly in a quick cut scene reminiscent of reading a comic book—a terrific staging device which unfortunately never appears again.  Poor Mary Jane never really gets a star number.  A duet with Peter called “Picture This” about dreaming of a better future turns into an oddball quartet with the soon-to-be-villain Green Goblin (Patrick Page) and his wife.  Sure, we’re supposed to see that villains have their reasons, too—but at the expense of Mary Jane and Peter?  Thankfully, I’ve read that Bono is back from a brief tour and focusing on the music—including a new closing number, which this show desperately needs.

The plot becomes even more confusing in Act II when our hipsters transform into a Greek Chorus and begin interacting at times with Peter Parker.  Odd, and hard to follow.  But wait, there are six new villains to fight—some of them sprung from Taymor’s imagination including the Grace Jones dominatrix-inspired Swiss Miss! And Arachne returns—more important than ever before!  Wait, a weird plot twist, Spider-Man has to defeat all the villains for the second time!  Holy complications Batman, what’s going on?!

Before the show, Chef and I took bets on how many times they might have to halt the production for technical glitches.  I was optimistic with “none.”  Chef argued for “two.”  And when the flying sequences began we watched closely for any hard landings—I could see why there were some broken ankles.  All seemed relatively smooth until the final moments when just before the finale some type of web is supposed to rise up as a backdrop.  After a stage manager announced pause, the show went on without the web, which must have played a crucial role in the final scene—I’m guessing that Mary Jane was supposed to be tangled in it—otherwise I’m not sure why Peter was pantomiming action to something that didn’t exist.

But, oh those aerial sequences.  They are spectacular.  On the one hand, I wanted more of them—perhaps to keep my mind off the sticky quagmire of a plot.  On the other, I couldn’t help thinking—is that all I really what I want from a live performance—tricks?  For many in the audience, the tricks were more than enough—and hopefully a spectacle like this will bring even more attendees to Broadway.  Chef reminded me that a young kid seeing Spider-Man fly overhead for the first time probably would be hooked on the theatre for life.  I just hope that young kid learns to hunger for more—like at least one hummable song that can be performed on the Today Show and Macy’s Thanskgiving Day Parade.

I longed for a magically richer tale up Julie Taymor’s sleeve.  Here’s hoping that by the official opening on February 7th, she’s able to untangle Spider-Man’s complicated web.

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Tex and the City: Romantic Fall

Today on Tex and the City: JP picks his favorite Fall happenings, while Chef prepares for a Nor’easter.

in a colorful fall scarf. photo by Jamie Beck

By the time of our ninth date, it was fairly obvious that Chef and I had radically different approaches to seasonal transitions.  We met in late summer, and so by mid-September Chef was already breaking out hat, gloves, and down jackets for a stroll around Central Park to see the changing leaves.

“Aren’t you a little over dressed for a romantic walk?” I asked, wearing a light sweater and cute new scarf.

“Romantic?  There’s nothing romantic about this weather.  You never know when a snowstorm might hit.”

“I take it you’re not a fan of fall, then.  That’s too bad, it’s my favorite season.”

“If you ask me, fall is just a harbinger of impending doom.  Six months of Nor’easters and no sun.”

So dramatic.  That’s my boy.  Not that I lack a flare for the dramatic.  I suppose my love of Fall is rooted in too many Woody Allen movies as a kid—they were like love letters to the Big Apple.  And then When Harry Met Sally came along I was mesmerized by  the image of Meg Ryan walking through Central Park while the golden leaves fell around her.

When I first moved to Alphabet City, I was overwhelmed by the energy with which New Yorkers attack the Fall season.  It’s as if right after Labor Day, summering finally ends, and they are allowed to unleash every bit of pent up ambition in a flurry of activity that concludes before Thanksgiving.  I always feel like if I don’t pay attention, and plan, then I’m going to miss something important—especially theatre offerings.  I’ve learned to really sit down and study both New York and Time Out magazines’ Fall Previews, and then triangulate it with the New York Times Arts & Leisure Fall guide.

For those of you traveling to NYC this romantic fall, or those of you living here that need a little help, here’s what’s on my radar screen that Tex and the City will most likely be writing about this Fall.

That is, when I’m not strolling the city with Chef—I’ll be the one with the colorful scarf, he’ll be Nanook of the North.

My ticket tip: register with www.theatermania.com and have access to discount codes for purchasing tickets; otherwise go to www.telecharge.com

Mrs. Warren’s Profession.  Cherry Jones—one of the most powerful actresses of our time—stars as a brothel-owner in this George Bernard Shaw play about mother-daughter dynamics.  The daughter will be played by Sally Hawkins, making her Broadway debut.  www.roundabouttheatre.org

La Bete.  Patsy from AbFab on Broadway in a revival of a famous flop?  Count me in!  Joanna Lumley stars with David Hyde Pierce and Mark Rylance (Tony award Boeing Boeing), directed by God of Carnage’s Matthew Warchus.  www.labetetheplay.com

Without You.  Anthony Rapp writes the book and lyrics based upon his book Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent.  Hey, Alphabet City as a musical?  I’m considering it.  So it’s a must to check out this show part of the New York Musical Theater Festival that gave us hits like Next to Normal and my inspiring fave [title of show]www.nymf.org

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.  Tickets already purchased, thank you very much, for this musical adaptation of the Almodovar movie.  Come on, starring Patti Lupone, Laura Benanti, Sheri Rene Scott and Brian Stokes Mitchell?!  There’s no decision here.  www.lct.org

Driving Miss Daisy.  Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones.  Enough said.  www.daisyonbroadway.com

The Pee-Wee Herman Show.  Paul Reubens is back and as goofy as ever.  And thank God, because he still influences my everyday dialogue.  “Why don’t you marry it?”  www.pewee.com/broadway

Elling.  Although my love for this actor can’t get me to watch him in True Blood, Denis O’Hare will make me run screaming to the theater to see him paired with Brendan Fraser.  They’re two men released from a mental institution living together.  Add in the quirky fabulous Jennifer Coolidge, and I’m not sure how this can go wrong.  www.ellingonbroadway.com

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.  Say what you will, but I live with a guy obsessed with super heroes.  And I’m obsessed with director Julie Taymor.  Let’s hope the most expensive production in Broadway history is either spectacularly terrific or outrageously tragic.  I’d hate for them to have spent a fortune to crank out this year’s mediocrity (sorry, Addams Family).  www.spidermanonbroadway.com

Other Desert Cities.  A new work by writer Jon Robin Baitz—whom I used to read magazine articles about while in Texas and fantasize I would have his life one day.  Story is about a novelist who returns home after six years and announces she’s working on a memoir about a controversial time in the family’s history.  Hmm, sound familiar?  www.lct.org

Out of Town Tryouts—Leap of Faith.  It often takes one for me to travel to LA.  But in case we need to escape an freak early snowfall, I’d consider a trip to Hollywood in October to see this musical.  Stars one of my Broadway boyfriends Raúl Esparza and eye-brow-licious Brooke Shields.  Based on the Steve Martin movie.  www.centertheatregroup.org

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