Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Perfect Storm, my take on the Spiderman debacle

I wrote this article as part of "Spiderman Tuesday" for artistew.com.  Check out other opinions on the infamous Broadway musical here.

There’s no denying that Spiderman, Turn off the Dark is a budget blowing whirlwind of epic proportions, but exactly what spun Broadway’s super mega musical into a vortex of disaster is less obvious. Let’s look at some of the details that contributed to the perfect storm.

Producer Tony Adams originally got the rights to do the show from Marvel. He got Julie Taymor, Bono and The Edge on Board. Then he died.

Problem # 1: Your big picture guy, the one who has the vision for the project, is now out of the picture.

The production became the project of a number of other producers, unable to gather the necessary (and exhorbitant) capitalization, until it fell to the current ringmaster of this “rock and roll circus drama” (as Julie Taymor has coined it), Michael Cohl. Michael Cohl’s background is as a rock promoter.

Problem # 2: The savior of your show (and Mr.Cohl did save this show from the brink of not being), isn’t a seasoned lead Broadway producer.

Reportedly, Ms. Taymor is an uncompromising director, who has a vision that will be fulfilled at any cost. Given the already significant demands of the content (umm flying, sky high battles, mutant –like bad guys), Ms. Taymor’s rigid pursuit of her vision likely added to the financial demands of the show. In addition, the nature of the show made it too expensive to hold an out of town tryout. The Foxwoods Theatre underwent some serious renovations, just to accommodate the production.

Problem # 3: Every element of developing this show was expensive.

While Ms. Taymor is indubitably a talented and seasoned director, she is not a seasoned playwright, and she most certainly is not a seasoned musical book writer. While her collaborator, Glen Berger, while an accomplished playwright, doesn’t have any hit Broadway musicals to his credit.

Problem # 4: When launching an unprecedented project, it might be a good idea to hire someone who has Green/Comden-like success to write your book.

Finally, the safety issue that has been much discussed by my fellow bloggers, is a little more complicated than it may seem. Although it seems unconscionable that the production didn’t have the safety procedures it established after a stuntman plummeted to the ground FROM THE BEGINNING, hindsight is 20/20. Regardless, there were absolutely oversights in this department, as it seems there were at every step of this production, and safety is an issue that should be covering all bases. It’s not however, just an issue of not enough preparation. While the stunts involved are not unprecedented in a circus environment, they are unprecedented in a Broadway environment. What does that mean exactly? It means that Broadway actors, who are trained to sing, dance and act are suddenly flying, fighting, and performing acrobatic feats. That is dangerous in and of itself. Circus performers, like those who safely and magnificently perform with Cirque du Soleil, train for years to do what they do. Unfortunately, you can’t hire circus performers to do what a Broadway actor does, and you can’t afford to train a Broadway actor for years to do what a circus performer does just for one show.

Problem # 5: In reality, the concept is flawed. The only completely safe way to have done this production is not economically viable in the Broadway market.

To put it simply, Spiderman, Turn off the Dark is a project so ambitious that it needed a singular, overarching vision from the beginning, to set up checks and balances evaluating where the show was going and looking for problems before they arose. Unfortunately, the controls were not in place for this project and it has spent its entire existence playing catch up with unforeseen challenges. Whether it succeeds or fails will depend on the current leadership’s ability to plan ahead. I hear they’ve brought on a new consultant…