Odds and Ends from the Tonys

It dawned on me during the Tony Awards last night that the only musical I have seen in the last six months was a disastrous production of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. When you figure that I saw it with many of my former high school teachers, this was easily the worst Broadway experience of my life. So I have started the “help Joanna go to a Broadway show that isn’t Spider-Man so she can regain her faith in humanity musical theater” fund. (Note: This is a legit fund. I don’t care which show it is. I will sit in the most nosebleed-y seats of any production as long as it is NOT Spider-Man.)

Thank god for the Tony Awards though. They were great fun and gave me a dose of exactly what I was missing out on – Sutton Foster, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, dancing and singing Mormons, dancing and singing Harry Potter, Sutton Foster. The Book of Mormon cleaned up by winning nine awards, including Best Musical. The Book of Mormon is arguably the best thing to happen to Broadway in a while; it has injected far more life into the stage scene than Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark ever could.

(By the way, everyone’s favorite musical mess opens for real this time on Tuesday. What’s that? The sound of you casually strolling to the Times Square TKTS Booth to purchase your tickets for Anything Goes and not Spider-Man? I don’t blame you.)

Aside from The Book of Mormon domination (music to Joseph Smith’s ears?) and the success of plays, War Horse and The Normal Heart, Neil Patrick Harris was once again the best host imagineable. Did I mention the awesome NPH and Hugh Jackman host off/dance off? (“But buddy, if I’m the bottom you’re the top!” – Annie Get Your Gun will now have a revival.) Please Oscars producers, take note.

What follows next are some of the entertaining Tweets I read during the night’s festivities:

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Overheard During Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark

It has been a week since I saw a preview performance of Broadway’s most talked about new musical Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark. The show is one hot mess and I mean that in the most loving way possible.

By now you have heard about the production delays, frequent technological malfunctions, cast changes and injuries, book and music rewrites, and the show’s astronomical budget ($65 million… and growing every week). All this, combined with negative reviews, has sparked the public’s interest and left a strain on the cast and crew. Spider-Man co-creator and director Julie Taymor recently said at the TED2011 conference that she was “in the crucible and the fire of transformation.”

I left Foxwoods Theatre completely underwhelmed and drained (with technical malfunctions the show lasted roughly three hours) by what I had seen.  Some things work (the costumes for the Sinister Six) but a lot (most of the music) doesn’t. It has taken me a week to really process the show so I have turned to what I overheard others saying throughout the show to hopefully make some sense of this musical.

“I know nothing about Spider-Man. So I am going to just take off my glasses and just enjoy this for what it is or isn’t.” – My mom.

My poor mother. She had no idea what she was getting herself into when she agreed to see this musical. This is her only knowledge of Spider-Man:

My mom has never seen the Spider-Man movies, never read a Marvel comic book, and never seen a Julie Taymor production. In order to enjoy Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark in some capacity, it helps to have a working knowledge of any of these three things. The first act follows the plot of the first Spider-Man movie and there is even a recreation of the infamous upside down kiss. But does any of this really benefit the show?

Throughout the night, my mother’s frequent comments (“This looks so cheap”) echoed what New York Times‘ critic Ben Brantley said in his February 8 review of the production.

The sheer ineptitude of this show, inspired by the Spider-Man comic books, loses its shock value early. After 15 or 20 minutes, the central question you keep asking yourself is likely to change from “How can $65 million look so cheap?” to “How long before I’m out of here?”

Sorry, folks…” (Insert excuse for technical malfunction here.)

The first act of the show (just how did Peter Parker become Spider-Man?) limped along until the much-touted aerial sequence began. The audience suddenly emerged from their coma and applauded with anticipation. The scene that everyone has heard so much was off to an exciting start when it happened: the safety harness did its job leaving the acrobatic performer dangling mid-air above the orchestra seats. The performance stopped.

When this happened, the audience gave erupted into cheers. It was bizarre. It was sensationalism as its finest. Why? People are going to Spider-Man because they want to see someone get injured.  They want to see one of the performers flung from the stage when the safety harness fails. This is “the musical of human sacrifice“. Broadway is paying for it. Tickets are ridiculously expensive. And for what? To satisfy your innate needs to see something sensationalist? The viewing experience that Spider-Man generates is just ridiculous.

“Do something already!” – Random teenager in the audience before an usher, who looked like he was on the verge of cutting said teenager, approached him and told him to stop.

It was a long technical malfunction. Observing the audience reaction during this 15 minute or so delay was completely surreal. I’ve never been to a Broadway show where the audience uproariously applauded because of the dangerous stunts. I’ve never been to a musical where the audience acted like it was the ninth inning of a Yankee-Red Sox game, slow clapping to get the players (well, here it is the backstage crew) amped. I’ve never been to a show where people applauded the technical malfunction and then quickly grew dissatisfied when the tangled wires were not immediately remedied. You can’t demand a sensationalist performance then become impatient when the house lights are up for too long. Are people really that stupid? (Yes, yes they are.)

“This is a young person’s show.” – Random audience member, who surprisingly was not my mother.

Who will be drawn to Spider-Man? Comic book geeks and every tourist seeking the Broadway experience. Spider-Man doesn’t really appeals to fans of traditional Broadway musicals. I could easily go with the flow of the show, embracing every “pow”, “bam”, and “zap”. That doesn’t mean I enjoyed the show because I constantly found myself zoning and not caring about the music. It was only during the failed aerial sequence and the audiences absurd reaction that I was invested in what I was watching. (Human behavior is always more engaging than highly theatrical and overwrought art, isn’t it?)

How I judge musicals comes down to this. If I am still humming the music from the show weeks and years later, then it has had a lasting impact on me. Musicals like The Drowsy Chaperone and Spring Awakening have found a permanent place in my iTunes rotation. Until I watched this clip of  the cast performing “Rise Above” on The Late Show, I had essentially forgotten what Spider-Man‘s signature song is supposed to be. At the end of the day, when all the theatrics are done, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark just didn’t hold my attention.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

In an odd way, it is fitting that the signature song for Spider-Man is “Rise Above,” although I am unsure if that will really ever happen.

Almodóvar’s Broadway Arrival

Pedro Almodóvar’s unmatched body of work is receiving what can either be considered an ultimate sign of respect or a risk-filled move – a Broadway musical adaptation.

Almodóvar’s 1988 Gazpacho-laced screwball classic Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, adapted for the stage by director Bartlett Sher, book writer Jeffrey Lane and composer and lyricist David Yazbek, began preview performances on October 8 and will open on November 4.

Almodóvar, unsurprisingly and necessarily so, has been involved with the project since 2005. The director, known for his meticulous attention to the smallest details, broke down the 90-minute film for the creative team, shot by shot, frame by frame. (That’s a conversation I would have killed to sit in on.)

Women on the Verge tackles a theme prevolent in nearly every one of Almodóvar’s seventeen films: how women exist in the world when they have been adandoned by men. But how female solidarity comes to be in these films – and now musical adaptation – is most intriguing.  In Women on the Verge, female solidarity is the result of pure madness and hilarity. The musical takes place over two days while Pepa (played by two-time Tony nominee Sherie Rene Scott) attempts to reveal a secret to her womanzing boyfriend, Ivan (Brian Stokes Mitchell). Patti LuPone stars as Lucia, a woman who has been in a mental hospital ever since her husband left her; she returns to enact her revenge. Not to mention terrorists, gazpacho and wild motocyclists all play central roles in Women on the Verge.

All the necessary pieces seem to be in place – a proven creative team, a stellar cast, and even the guidance of the auteur himself. Still the question remains: Is the Broadway stage really big enough for Almodóvar?

So far the answer might be yes. The challenges that exist with adapting a Spanish-language film for audiences most likely unfamiliar with Almodóvar’s work are monumental. The amount of planning and depth that goes into an Almodóvar production is astounding and this has generated technical challenges for the production.

In spite of the obvious challenge of this musical to Broadway, what makes Women on the Verge a fascinating adaptation is that this film has been revisited by Almodóvar in 2009’s Broken Embraces. It will exciting to see how creative minds other than Almodóvar approach his work.

Tickets for Womeon on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown are on sale now.

Spring Awakening – The Movie?

It was only a matter of time that Tony-award winning musical Spring Awakening was adapted into a movie. I imagine that of all the musicals that recently ran on Broadway, Spring Awakening was probably the one musical that would definitely become a film.
Then I learned who will produce and direct the movie – McG, the director of Terminator Salvation. Seriously?
I’m not one to judge any director before I see the final product. But Spring Awakening is a difficult musical to adapt for the screen. If you’ve seen the live production then you know how condensed and almost claustrophobic the stage is, which is something that won’t translate to film unless it is done exceptionally well.
Can someone whose credits also include Charlie Angels be the right person to tackle this musical about teenage coming of age and sexual repression? The Spring Awakening fans (“the Guilty Ones”) will certainly be quick to judge the movie if it not up to their (very high) standards.