As promised at the end of my Off the Record column, here are some additional thoughts about Spider-Man that didn’t make the article.
It’s the day after and the reviews are pouring in from the New York papers and beyond. It’s tough to read things like “epic flop” after only one performance. The audience was told before the evening began that it was a dress rehearsal with the possibility of production stoppages, so it’s not like we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves in for. I believe some of the confusion from the audience came because they didn’t quite get the definition of preview. I went into it expecting there to be some issues. The New York Post categorized the audience as “guinea pigs,” which also felt harsh.
In reviewing my notes from last night with a slightly distanced perspective, I found that what moved me the most in the show was indeed the music. Ballads “Say It Now” and “If the World Should End” had the typical U2-style melancholy they are so good at, mixed with a sense of immediacy. The way they wrote for the female voice allows for a sense of empowerment with a hint of vulnerability. “Rise Above” has the line “swing through the skies above – you shall rise above yourself.” “Pull the Trigger” was in the style of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” meets Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” as the military personnel and Osborn (soon-to-be Green Goblin) clash. “Picture This” juxtaposes the storylines of the Peter and Mary Jane courtship with Osborn and Emily’s commitment to each other as the music builds with great drama. In all, it is certainly like a guitar-driven rock opera with melancholy at the heart of it all. Oh, that Irish melancholy. For those playing the Bonoism drinking game during the show, you can take a sip when you hear “vision beyond visibility.” The 60 Minutes piece spotlighted “Bullying by Numbers,” a fast-tempo rock song where Peter gets beaten up by the rest of the school kids that ends with a slow-motion style fight scene. Peter gets his own revenge with “Bouncing Off the Walls,” another fast-tempo piece that ends with giving the bullies their dues in the style of Defining Gravity from America’s Got Talent, sans black light. The other two songs 60 Minutes spotlighted were “Boy Falls From the Sky” and the duet “No More,” where Mary Jane laments living with her abusive, alcoholic father and Peter shares his frustration about not being understood by his aunt and uncle.
As I mentioned on Twitter, the Flying Circle seats are the best seats to have in the house. It puts you eye-to-eye with the action. While I was seated in the orchestra, I was blinded during the acrobatic scenes by the spotlights. The closer you are to the stage, the more you miss above you.
I am so torn about this production. I liked the comic book style of grayscale mixed with the vivid colors. I liked the dream sequences where there was blue-lit webbing and ethereal acrobatics between Arachne and Peter. It has great potential to make improvements to tighten up the storyline and the presentation of the plot. The ending felt quite abrupt and if more time could be given to the story of Spider-Man and less time on the Arachne/Athena/Fates parts of the story, the audience may be a bit happier. The debate of free will vs. fate had the Citizens on stage caught up in whether or not Peter Parker was fated to be Spider-Man or if it was through his own free will that he became Spider-Man. To a degree, who cares? He became this superhero and he, as a character, wasn’t asking “why me?”
I can appreciate Taymor’s sentiments about why should people care if a bunch of millionaires want to invest their money in the arts, allowing them to keep people employed in this economy and such. I can also appreciate Michael Cohl’s feelings about people not wanting to see a $25 million Spider-Man production. However, it’s not like those millionaires just gave their money not expecting a return on the investment. As a supporter of Bono and The Edge’s work, it will pain me greatly if this show doesn’t have the lifespan it should because the music is indeed some of the best they have done. It frustrates me that a weak and disjointed storyline may be the real foe to the superhero’s time on Broadway. Instead of doing one thing well, it tries to do many things with mediocre results in many cases. The sets are innovative, but the engineering required with them could also put a spanner in the works. As Bono said, it’s a magic trick where if the rabbit comes out of the hat, then it’s great … but if it comes out the pant leg, well, there’s problems. There are too many instances where good *can* become great if given time. The question then becomes how much more time could it take? Well, for this play, hopefully six more weeks so when it’s opening night, they’re ready with a polished product. Just as with a U2 tour, the first 30 days are sort of like a dress rehearsal with the show becoming tighter and more focused over time. I hope that this musical is given the ability to grow into its own.
I still have to shake my head though – for $65 million, couldn’t they get an actor to play the part of wrestler Bonesaw McGraw instead of an inflatable man?
When New York Times reporter Patrick Healy asked me “Would you recommend this?” last night, I hesitated and said it’s tough. Monday morning quarterbacking it now, I still have to say it’s tough. While I want to see this play succeed, U2 fans are being asked to spend money so many different ways to support our favorite band, the wallet can only be spread so thin. Perhaps the real reason why we’re not seeing a cast recording is to drive people to the theater for the music as it’s the only way to hear the new songs. I just wished that I heard a lot more positive feedback in the theater last night. Perhaps I was just seated in the wrong section.