PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 5-11: Spider-Man Faces the Villains

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 5-11: Spider-Man Faces the Villains
 
This week, Spider-Man finally came face to face with the Daily Bugle.
Patrick Page in Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark.
Patrick Page in Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark. Photo by Jacob Cohl

After weeks, nay months, of previewing, and gobbling up every bit of theatre press ink in sight (are there any other shows this season?), Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark was reviewed. This circumstance, of course, was not the show's preference; producers had announced an opening date of March 15. But that was only the latest version of a premiere that kept fading further into the distant horizon. The critics — seemingly en masse, though really just following the lead of the New York Times — threw up their hands and said "Enough!" Ten weeks of tweaking and finessing was more than enough time to get a show right, they declared. So they decided to honor not the March 15 opening date, but Feb. 7, the opening announced just previous to that.

The reviews flowed down like a California mudslide, mainly landing on Tuesday. And it was not just New York critics, but scribes from Los Angeles, DC and elsewhere, even London, for the fate of Spider-Man has grown into an international story. Those reviews in turn touched off a bunch of news stories reporting how the critics had jumped the gun and earned the ire of the producers. Which led to a slew of think pieces about whether the critics had done the right thing, and if the producers had any right to be angry. In all, Spider-Man got a few new cycles' worth of stories, all compressed into about 48 hours.

About those reviews. They were bad, mainly. The Times' Ben Brantley said Spider-Man was probably one of the worst musical in history. Back Stage claimed 25 of the show's 165 minutes worked. (Someone was checking his watch.) The Hollywood Reporter called it "an ungainly mess of a show that smacks of out-of-control auteurial arrogance." Yet, New York magazine said it was "predictably unfinished, but unpredictably entertaining...but never, ever boring." USA Today was encouraging: "Spider-Man's creative team is trying to bring musical theatre back to the future. And that's a mission worth rooting for."  Director Julie Taymor was beaten up pretty well for her hubris, but composers Bono and The Edge took some lumps, too. The creatives did not stop work, of course. There are several weeks of rehearsals and fine-tuning left.

The show's overburdened publicist Rick Miramontez responded by stating, "The pile-on by the critics was ridiculous and uncalled for. Their actions are unprecedented and uncool!" He was apparently laboring under the misconception that it is possible for critics to be cool.

One might hope that this marks an end to the current phase of Spider-Man coverage, which was been exhaustive and weirdly self-reflexive and meta. But no. The critics from The New York Post, The Daily News, New York and Time Out New York said in interviews that they would return for the official opening. But now that Spider-Man has "opened," will the producers even bother with a real opening? (The answer is yes.) And, if they do, why would they bother inviting critics who have already made their feelings known? ***

John Doyle
photo by Aubrey Reuben

We've been hearing about a new Broadway-bound revival of You Can't Take It With You for some time now. Well, that venture will be part of the 2011 season at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the first under the aegis of artistic director Jenny Gersten. It will, in fact, launch the season July 1. The Kaufman and Hart comedy will be directed by Christopher Ashley. A representative for the planned Broadway run said that the comedy will now open on Broadway Aug. 11 at a Shubert theatre to be announced. The mildly subversive play was last on Broadway in 1983. In the years since then, Americans still don't seem to have caught the point of the title.

Also part of the season will be the American premiere of John Doyle's Rodgers and Hart musical Ten Cents a Dance. The jukebox musical first debuted at the U.K.'s Watermill Theatre in 2002.

***

The Tony Awards Administration Committee assembled Feb. 10 for the second time of the 2010-11 season to discuss the eligibility of six Broadway productions for the 2011 Tony Awards.

Among the main conclusions were these two curiosities: Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles, which is essentially a staged concert by a fancy Beatles cover band, will be eligible for nomination in the Best Musical category; and The Pee-wee Herman Show, basically a stage recreation of the 1980s children's television show, will be eligible for nomination in the Best Play category. Also, Paul Reubens, the star of that show, will be considered eligible in the category of Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play.

***

Adam Rapp
photo by Aubrey Reuben

The world premiere of Adam Rapp's The Hallway Trilogy, starring Maria Dizzia, Logan Marshall Green and Louis Cancelmi, began performances Off-Broadway Feb. 8 at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

As suggested by the title, this interesting new work is actually three plays, each 90 minutes long, and set 50 years apart in the same Lower East Side building. Part One, Rose, opens Feb. 22; Paraffin, Part Two, opens Feb. 23; and Nursing, Part Three, opens on Feb. 24. Performances will continue through March 20.

Rose takes place on a date that only a playwright would select: Nov. 28, 1953, the day following the death of Eugene O'Neill. Paraffin, meanwhile, is set on a date most of us can still remember: the 2003 New York City blackout.

For the third play, Rapp has set himself the task of creating history, since the actions takes place in 2053. And what's happening in the mid-21st century? Well, apparently, Obama's health bill is doing a bang-up job. New York is a disease-free city! There are, however, still poor people, and bored rich people. So, the tenement has been transformed into a museum where young men and women in need of cash are injected with old-fashioned diseases for the amusement of the public.

That plotline doesn't shock me. What shocks me is that New York's rapacious developers didn't find a way to tear down the tenement in the coming half-century.

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