As we all wait breathlessly to find out once and for all which, if any, rumors The New York Times is reporting about Julie Taymor and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark are true, I continue to find absolutely laughable, and sad, the amount of finger pointing and ill-informed opinions that are being expressed in chat rooms and message boards.
Laughable because so much of it is regurgitation of previously expressed opinions aka "the bandwagon," and sad because so many people actually believe everything they read on the Internet by (A) so called "friends of the cast," (B) "anonymous production members," and the always reliable (C), "I heard Miss X who plays Y say Z while I was walking through Shubert Alley seeing who 'stagedoors' for Memphis". (A) Real friends don't bad mouth their friends or their work; (B) anonymous production members - 1) who would risk their job by posting on BroadwayWorld.com? and 2) there are not THAT many production members; and (C) does anyone who really thinks actually listen to people whose main concern is who "stage doors" after a show?
Truth be told, you have no reason to believe what I have to say any more than anyone else who writes about theatre in the blogosphere. All I can offer are my own personal opinions. But what I can say is that I don't talk about what I haven't seen in person, as far as the show goes, and I can only offer conjecture based on experiences with past shows and years of watching shows come and go, many of which were called "the worst musical of all times" well before Ben Brantley was an itch to be scratched at his high school newspaper. (HINT: Two of them played the Foxwoods when it was called something else.)
So, while we wait... let me offer this again about the show itself: There were vast and substantial improvements to the plot and staging made between early December and early February. This is contrary to a lot of onliners who swear nothing has changed. Trust me... a vital recast, a couple of pertinent and well-written book scenes, and a superb ending (say the last 1/2 hour or so) constitute significant improvements to a flawed show. On the flip side, I can say, because I saw it with my own eyes, that several big things - plot points, bad songs and ridiculous staging (all of which remained virtually unchanged from December to February) - were as bad as ever. Not worse, but still in serious need of addressing. To summarize, It is way better than it was, and if they change what had still not been touched when I saw it, it could be a great show.
As for all of the finger pointing and blaming of Taymor, the producers, the lack of involvement of Bono, etc., I am reminded of a key scene in Into the Woods. It comes at the moment of crisis. The Giant is meandering aimlessly through the woods - at least that's what the people on the ground take it as for awhile - but the Giant is on a clear mission: to find the killer of her husband. But the problem is she cannot see without her glasses. At this point, in order to regain some semblance of society and themselves, they feel the need to assess blame. The song is "Your Fault," and it involves logical, point by point blaming, with each of the blamed able to pass it on to another until the buck finally stops with the Witch. She is smart, a leader, a visionary. But she is also selfish, self-involved and a tyrant. She finally leaves the scene and the rest are left to fend for themselves. Some run and hide, other take charge and problem solve. The result is that the Giant is destroyed, and lives changed, everyone else lives...some happy, others just alive.
Depending on your take, and when it all comes out in the wash this week, we will find out if the Julie Taymor is the Witch or the Giant. We will probably never know what has been going on behind the scenes or for how long. And since it isn't my $65M or my opening night or my book, score or role, I won't even try to guess. But I've watched this kind of stuff go on with Broadway shows for decades, and the only really new thing here is that it is SO public and so many people who aren't even remotely involved speak about it like they are there.
Ultimately, we need to remember that sometimes when we are too close to something we can't see the forest for the trees. And sometimes, it is hard to take yourself out of something that is so profoundly yours. The bottom line, however, is this: in business (and this is a business, not just a show) there has to be a scapegoat, but everyone one involved has some of the blame to share.
Either way, let's look at the bright side: Broadway has not been a part of the National dialogue, nor has it been as relevant on such a scale in decades. And all of those "poor, unfortunate tourists who are being duped" and are still seeing Spider-Man in droves, despite rotten reviews, can now all call themselves theatre goers. If even a fraction of them come back to try another show, then it is a definite win for Broadway. Right?
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