Monday, December 6, 2010

The Schadenfreude of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

When this posts, it will be less than 24 hours since I actually saw Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.  In a couple of days, after I get my thoughts together I'll probably post something about the experience, though I will not be posting an actual review until I have seen a finished product.  And so now I post the following thoughts and ideas I've had since all of this began, more than a year ago, based solely upon things I've read and actually seen with my own eyes.

Avenue Q (a musical that MANY thought would never be a success beyond the fringe and semi-masses of off-Broadway-only fans) has a song in it called "Schadenfreude" which is all about taking pleasure in another's failure.  And I think to a large extent, S-MTOTD is a victim of such a thing.

Before the show even booked a theatre, and was announced solely as a concept, I read blogs and message board posts that said things like: "I hate it already." and "I refuse to see any show about a super hero."  OK, maybe the second is simply a statement of opinion over a genre, like saying "I refuse to see any film based on a Nicholas Sparks novel because I hate his books."  But the first - which I read dozens of times in various forms - really?  A dismissal before anything has even been announced? .... hmmm.

Then the bashing continued with the announcement that Julie Taymor was on board.  I respect anyone who has an opinion about a body of work, provided that they have seen said body of work.  A lot of people have seen The Lion King, an astonishing theatrical achievement, even if you don't like it.  But did you see The Green Bird?  Juan Darien?  Probably not.  And her movies, while equally stunning to look at, have their detractors, too.  So, I can fully see people saying things about her style or "vision", etc., but I do have a problem with the bashing of her character.  And for this simple reason:  unless you have worked directly with her, and I mean directly, not "my friend was a swing in the show at The New Victory and she heard the actors talking about Julie on the street," or "my aunt is an usher at the Foxwoods and blah blah blah"... unless you actually are in her show and can speak honestly about her as a director, why are you talking about her alleged ego, self-praise, and drive?  You know, they used to say the same things about Bob Fosse... Lucille Ball...William Shakespeare.  Maybe Ms. Taymor should be thrilled with the public vilification her reputation is getting in the press and all over the Internet.  She is in superb company.

Creators The Edge, Julie Taymor and Bono

Like Spider-Man, previous "whipping boys" Titanic and Cats and Starlight Express before it, all of these shows were, in their time, the most expensive ever produced.  Is that the issue?  The $65M budget also seems to be a bone of contention with folks.  Is it your money?  Has the government offered taxpayer bailouts to the show?  Are you forced to buy a ticket for a preview, an actual performance or the closing night?  The answer to all of those -unless you are a producer - is NO.  So while you may say things like "what a shame to waste so much money on any Broadway show, good, bad or indifferent during these hard times," and be perfectly justified in saying so, no one but the people who could actually lose everything by investing everything they have in the show has any right to print a single word about the budget.  SIDE NOTE:  Julie Taymor does not print the money she spends.  Producers give it to her.  She is not the problem there, either.  They can say "no" at any point.

Related to the budget and Ms. Taymor:  She, herself, has said, "People expect to see Spider-Man fly in a certain way.  A $25M "Spider-Man" wouldn't give them what they want to see."  And that is true, 100%.  People want to see Spidey move like he does in the movies, which may never ever happen live.  But to give it a close approximation, whole new technologies have been invented and re-worked for live theatre because of this show.  Are glitches going to happen?  Sure.  Ask they guys who invented the airplane, the light bulb and air conditioning.  All three were met with injury, public outcries and detractors.  Can you imagine life without those three things?  And we are only talking theatre here, at least the flying apparatus doesn't change life as we know it... but who knows how it can be used in future shows?  We've come a long way from metal boards being pounded for thunder haven't we?  Still, had the design team and Ms. Taymor come up with anything less, she'd be taken to task for that, too.

So far, the only legitimate arguments for or against S-M:TOTD that I've read are those accounts written by people actually there, and who actually tell the WHOLE story.  Sadly, this does not seem to include the legit press.  The New York Post, for example, reported, factually, that a heckler at the first preview yelled out a comment about the show during a stoppage.  What they did not report (even in a full article about the woman in later editions) is that the audience solidly booed the woman for being woefully inappropriate in her behavior.  And that kind of half-fact thing is running rampant in the press.  The New York Times ran an article whose title and opening paragraph would lead you to believe that the owners of the Foxwoods Theatre are actively seeking new tenants.  Anyone who read further, or who actually is in the business of producing shows would know that new owners extend that courtesy to all theatre producers.  It's called "getting your name out there."  And it has nothing to do with the owners' faith in a show.  The Times article actually contradicted itself.

Finally, and of seriously legitimate concern, is the injury of actors during a show or rehearsals or whenever.  No one wants that to happen.  To suggest, though, that anyone cares more about the show than the people in it - to the point that accusations of gross negligence is occurring - is really inappropriate, not to mention libelous.  If it turns out that the actors injured (both of whom, I believe, are back in the show) doing stunts were injured because proper precautions weren't taken or the mechanics were faulty, then those in charge of it should be held responsible.  If it turns out that Natalie Mendoza was FORCED to perform on Tuesday, I hope those responsible are dealt with appropriately.  But to speculate about such things is harmful and unnecessary.

And let's not forget that injuries during shows and rehearsals are common.  James Carpinello in Xanadu, Christina Applegate in Sweet Charity, Gwen Verdon in Chicago, Sandy Duncan in Chicago, Mary Martin in Peter Pan (her flying cost her a broken arm and permanent back damage...she still did 8 a week... and two TV movies...), Susan Egan fell through a trap door during the wolf chase scene in Beauty and the Beast, and Adrian Bailey is still in court over injuries sustained during a trap door malfunction during The Little Mermaid... how about Idina Menzel and her trap door injury during Wicked?  The casts of Cats, A Chorus Line and Starlight Express often playing three roles at a time because so many actors were out with injuries?  Most tragically, a stage hand was killed when scenery malfunctioned during a tech run at the original production of La Cage aux Folles.  But what is funny is that not one of those shows had the public screaming, "Close it!  It is death trap at the theatre!"  (That is a direct quote from a message board about Spider-Man).  So what is the difference?

It just seems to be that this is the show this year that, no matter what happens, people are going to beat at it and batter it until it closes.  Last year, it was The Addams Family.  Several years ago, it was Titanic: The Musical.  The headlines were national when, at the first preview, the boat didn't sink.  And some of the same so-called professionals in the press sharpened their knives over that one, too.  Then it went and did the "impossible".  It won the Tony Award for Best Musical (and several others), and not a few in the community were shy about boasting that Broadway beat Hollywood in the race for Titanic-mania. 

All I am saying is this.  Have your opinion. Express it loudly and proudly.  Don't like the changes to the traditional Spider-Man story?  Think the book is a mess?  Hate the score?  Fine.  Say so.  But only do so if you have actually seen the show or are working on it.  Otherwise, why are you talking at all about it?

If it ends up a fast flop, so be it.  If it ends up being a huge hit, so be it.  After I've seen it, I will feel free to love it or hate it.  But even if it is the worst thing I've ever seen, I won't laugh at it.  A lot of people are employed because of it.  The surrounding economy of it stands to make the city and local merchants a lot of money in these hard times.  And artistically, no one will be able to accuse them of not putting everything they have into it.

If it is a fast flop, I guess the naysayers will have the last laugh.  And there is a certain pleasure in watching the mighty fall, I guess.  But are the powers that be at one Broadway musical really "the mighty".  "Schadenfreude" they call it.  But there is another term that people might want to consider as they do their happy dance each time something goes wrong.  That term is "karma."  And I hear it can be a real bitch when it is your time.

Please let me hear what you have to say!  Leave comments here, email me or Tweet me.

1 comment:

  1. Great article! I've been reading a lot of negative things about this show and I've also thought it unfair that so many were putting it down just based off of technical issues. I agree with you when you say that you really can't judge a show until you've seen it.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...