Lights up on Spiderman (the Taymor Version): A Scathing Review of the
By Laura Strausfeld
Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark
Music and lyrics by Bono & The Edge
Book by Julie Taymor & Glen Berger
213 W. 42nd St.
Tickets: (800) 745-3000
To quote one of Bono's convoluted lyrics, "Open
Something's afoot. I paid (half) the price of
admission to enjoy a good afternoon of schadenfreude with my kids on
their spring break in March. I'm an (off-off Broadway) theater director
and admit to admiring Julie Taymor enormously. That doesn't mean I wouldn't
have been happy to see evidence of her Icarus moment. (No one's yet
offered me a $70 million-dollar directing budget.)
But what I saw--in scene after scene--was Taymor's
genius and the glaring injustice of the reviews I'd read (most notably
Ben Brantley's) and of Taymor being fired by the shows' producers. On
that point, the show was packed and the audience appeared to love it.
Were they blaming Taymor for the boatloads of money they were making
before the show closed for retooling?
If you're reading for a now moot recommendation,
you have it. Spiderman was a phenomenal theater experience--despite
the unconscionably horrible music and lyrics. My ten-year-old son had
his fingers in his ears for the entire second half. The songs, without
exception, weren't just unsingable and unmemorable; they were unlistenable.
That only elevates Taymor further in my estimation, not only as an artist,
but as a human being--or perhaps as a businesswoman. If I'd been in
her web, I would've brought Bono down with me. But as far as I know,
she hasn't publicly stated the truth of her directorial dilemma: she
was given music that bites.
Every character who crooned in the show became
Bono, which means he or she was obtuse and megalomaniacal. The main
anthem--"Rise Above," sung by Spidey near the end (it opened with the
typically pretentious lyric: "When the ones who run the firehouse /
Are the ones who start the fire…")--made it explicit: Bono is
Spiderman. It wasn't a surprise, then, that Spidey sang this to the
character with whom Taymor was most identified. That would be the mythological
Arachne. One of her very unfortunate James Cameronesque lines was, "I'm
the greatest artist living today." Arachne, like Taymor, did rise above
the fray in the end--by killing herself off to spare Spidey. It was
all too rich. When the female ensemble members reacted to the Daily
Bugle editor's persistent refrain that Spiderman wasn't
any good, they were practically beseeching the audience to take note:
"How can the Times' say this sucks when we're sitting here
having such a good time?"
From what I understand, Taymor took on the hubristic
task of reinventing the modern musical. Who among us, with a budget
of $70 million, would do otherwise? I can't say she succeeded wholesale,
but she did create the most visually imaginative show I've ever seen
on Broadway. The opening image--of six swinging women weaving a tapestry
that spans the entire stage from top to bottom--was itself worth the
price of admission. From the foreshortened desks in the next scene,
to the endless play of scale and perspective throughout, the show wasn't
just visually captivating; it was enlightening. Like great art, it made
us see how we see. (The second act, I will concede, was video-heavy
and less interesting than the first, and I did wonder if that was because
1) Taymor ran out of steam, or time, or 2) Bono's second-act music was
so much more wretched than the first that Taymor just gave up.)
Which all leads to the question of what's afoot--or
rather, afoul? I saw Das Rheingold at the Met last fall, mainly
for Robert Lepage's beastly set, which reputedly cost $16 million. No
one's tallied the cost of the Met's entire production, which might be
at least twice that for a much shorter run than Spiderman has
already had. Nor has anyone broken down Spiderman's budget
to see, for instance, how much of it was really Taymor's to play with.
I don't mean to denigrate Lepage. I do mean to wonder, however, if he
would have been canned had Spiderman been his baby.
I confess to not knowing much about Bono before
seeing Spiderman. I've respected his social activism but found
him embarrassingly humorless next to Springsteen at the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame concert on TV last year. Aware now that he perceives himself
a superhero, I would want to ask him to "rise above" himself and resuscitate
his Spiderman collaborator publicly. I would applaud a new
ending to this debacle: Arachne, aka Taymor, doesn't die in the end.
. . . And maybe a few new and decent musical numbers.