Friday, February 18, 2011

The Doctor is In: Spider-Man is Far From the First...

News this week that the producers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark are in talks with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa to work on the book prompted the most obvious question, even from ardent supporters like myself: "Why did you wait so long?"  I am sure that there are many reasons why (and I've even heard that he and others have been hacking away at it long before now).  And I am equally sure we will NEVER know the full story.  Be that as it may, even as the show has VASTLY improved over the months since previews started, it still has a ways to go, and admittedly the biggest problem is the book.

If it turns out that Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa does/has/will be credited or not with working on the book, then the show is in good hands.  He has experience as a playwright, a show doctor and as a writer of actual Spider-Man comics!  In fact, his most recent show doctor credit was the re-vamping of the now possibly Broadway-bound It's a Bird!  It's a Plane!  It's Superman! (though now Superman will REALLY have to fly his ass off to impress anyone...).  I am keeping my fingers-crossed and hope he gets rid of those damnable shoes, re-works or gets rid of the Geek Squad (love as I do Gideon Glick, he doesn't really help the show at this point), and really makes us care about Peter, Mary Jane and, yes, even the Green Goblin.  I hate to admit that I like what is happening with Arachne, so I hope he tweaks well and carefully!

Of course, the tabloid New York Times, once a beacon of style and class, would now have you believe that this a first for any musical.  This is not even close to the first time a show in trouble called in a "doctor" so to speak.  Hell, Shakespeare even got help... the difference is that most of the time the public is not made aware of it.  And only occasionally do the "doctors" get or take credit.  Often, it is years after a show closes that the truth comes out. 

Some well known cases:
  • Arthur Laurents, directing I Can Get It For You Wholesale!, re-worked the book to suit his needs.  The show was still a flop.

  • Jerome Robbins came in to fix a troubled A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, going uncredited for staging and choreography.  So famous was this "uncredited" work, that "Comedy Tonight" made into his Tony-winning revue musical, Jerome Robbins' Broadway, and Stephen Sondheim tells the story of how Robbins got "Comedy Tonight" out of the young writer, as he admits himself in  Sondheim on SondheimForum is a musical theatre classic.
  • Bob Fosse, directing/choreographing Pippin very famously banned both Roger O. Hirson and Stephen Schwartz from rehearsals while he doctored the show.  It was a HUGE hit.
  • Tommy Tune, like Fosse and Robbins, did his doctoring to suit his staging needs TWICE: Grand Hotel: The Musical (a big hit) and My One and Only (another hit).

  • Neil Simon was brought in to tighten and fix the ending of A Chorus Line.  We all know what a HUGE hit that show turned out to be!  Contrary to popular belief, Simon's nickname, "Doc," had nothing to do with the shows he doctored, even though there were a few. 
  • Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse re-wrote the book to Anything Goes, making it one of the biggest hits of the 30's.  Their work was in turn doctored for the 1987 and 2011 revivals by Timothy Crouse (no relation to Howard) and John Weidman.  All four are joined by the two who wrote the original: P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton.

  • Abe Burrows doctored so many shows (along with writing such classics as Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed...) that there was a famous saying around the Rialto when the stink of trouble reached a producer's nostrils: "Get me Abe Burrows!"  Mr. Burrows, ever the gentleman, never really discussed which shows he doctored or which he co-wrote, admitting freely to only one: Make A Wish, a moderate success.
  • Douglas Carter Beane is a modern-day doctor, though he does wholesale re-writes of vintage shows, like The Bandwagon, which now goes by Dancing in the Dark.
  • Brian Yorkey for a while was being credited for "helping" Thomas Meehan with the book for Catch Me If You Can.
So you see, Spider-Man is not alone.  Not even close.  Here's hoping that Spidey goes the way of Anything Goes, Forum..., Pippin and A Chorus Line.

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All of the following Pulitzer Prize-winning musicals take place in New York City, EXCEPT:

B.  How to Succeed...
C.  next to normal
D.  A Chorus Line
E.  Fiorello!

Look for question #4 at the bottom of Monday's blog!  And remember: you need BOTH the letter AND the answer for your entry!

(John Larroquette as J.B. Bigley in How to Succeed...)

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